Wednesday, October 09, 2019

What's for Dinner {Sept. 2019}

Raise your hand if you feel like life is busy.

Raise your hand if you feel like planning dinners is hard. 

Raise your hands if you end up scrambling every night trying to figure out what to feed your hungry, and possibly cranky family (otherwise known as hangry. . . ha ha!). 

I promise you are not alone. 

I struggle with this so often.  It might not seem like it, but I do.  Taking the time to menu plan takes time and energy when I would rather be working on something else or binge watching White Collar episodes or  the latest Hallmark movie.  But, I know that when I do, our week is smoother, my kids eat healthier, my youngest tries new foods, and we enjoy some family time around the table (or we watch some classic TGIF shows on Hulu).  Either way, I know that taking the time to menu plan makes my life way smoother. 

Now that school is in full swing, I am starting up these monthly "What's for Dinner" posts to share some recipes that we tried out and loved over the past month.  One of the most commonly asked questions on Facebook among my mom friends is "what are some new recipes?"  Here are some that have been tested out in our kitchen during the evening chaos hours.  Some are recipes that are so easy, I can make ahead of time and take them to soccer practice and picnic there, while Ethan practices. 

But, first a few notes about our food habits:  In our home, there are some food allergies, like dairy, soy, and a recent discovery that Ethan is allergic to salmon (he's really heartbroken over this, because he really loves fish!).  While I bake a lot, we tend to keep most of our meals along the Whole 30 model because we don't need to eat bread and sugar all the time and we are guaranteed the recipes don't have soy and dairy in them, which means our whole family can eat.  There are nights, where we make Trader Joe's orange chicken or cook up some salmon and the kids eat chicken nuggets and that's okay. 

So, here are a few recipes that we cooked up this week. I'm getting hungry just thinking about them! Most of these, we've had before and we love!  They are easy and simple and we love them! 

:: Egg Roll in a Bowl
We love this recipe from 40 Aprons.  It's so easy, super inexpensive to make!  I always hope for leftovers, but there never are.   Ethan loves this and gets so excited when I make it.  This was a great recipe to make to eat at practice and was perfect for fueling Ethan for a quick dinner before practice.  One bowl and you are full.  You won't even miss the wrapper, I promise! 

:: Steak, Spinach, Sweet Potato Bowls
We've made this a few times and we love it!  The marinade for the flank steak is worth it enough and roasted sweet potatoes. . . I am now drooling over this post!  Jon likes his without the avocado drizzle, but I think it's what really makes the dish.   The combinations of flavors are really out of this world!  Plus, its easy to deconstruct and make it kid friendly, too! 

:: Simple Sesame Noodles
This recipe has always been a favorite, but I has stopped for quite awhile because I hadn't learned about coconut aminos, but once I did and Weston tried them it became a game changer because he LOVES these so much!  So, these make it on our meal plan a lot because everyone is happy with this!  I might pair it with some grilled chicken or some Aidells Teriyaki Meatballs to make the meal complete. 

As I write this, It is almost lunch time and this post is making me so hungry!  Other things that made it onto the table were:

:: homemade pizza
:: Trader Joe's Orange Chicken
:: grilled chicken and roasted veggies
:: Spaghetti
:: Stir Fry  (we love Nom Nom Paleo's Stir Fry sauce)
:: Sheet Pan dinners with Aidells Chicken and Apple Sausage and lots of veggies

We even planned a night to grab Chick Fil-A on the way to practice, because this mom gave herself a night off.

If you are looking for more inspiration, I post all my meal plans and some of our dinners to my Instagram stories and save them in my highlights.  You can find them under "Meal Plans" and "What's Cookin?"

You can also find monthly "What's Cooking" posts in the archives.   I'm thinking I might have to go look at them again because I had forgotten about some of our favorite recipes!

I hope this helps bring inspiration to your meal plan!

Happy Cooking!   

Friday, October 04, 2019

on finding community

He stood there nervous and fidgety.  He was wearing his special first day of school outfit that we had picked out together, packed his backpack with all the pencils, glue, and Clorox wipes that he could fit.  His lunch was packed with all his favorite foods.  He was ready.  He was nervous.  

That morning, he walked in to his kindergarten classroom with a nervous confidence that echoed my own heart.  I stood there, nervous for him, but also excited for this new stage of life we were embarking.  I woke up early and made sure I had my own first day outfit, of sorts, and not my usual yoga pants and tank top.  I wanted to leave a good impression on his teacher, but a big part of me, wanted to leave an impression on the other moms.  In my heart, I wanted them to like me.   

I was so excited for the afternoon to come.  I arrived 15 minutes early hoping that I would connect with a mom.  I stood there awkwardly while moms, dads, and grandmas stepped onto the grassy pick-up area.  Moms stood scattered across the grass awkwardly pretending to scroll through their social media feed.  Each one appeared more nervous that someone would talk to them then they were of their child’s day.  

My kids are both older now, both making their way through the ranks of our small neighborhood school.   I think back to those early years, when my boys were teeny, and my friends were those moms around my MOPS table or my small group table.  Those friendships were the easiest, because it was it was a safe place to share our hearts.  I think about how much more difficult it was to step out of my comfort zone and make new friends as we started our elementary school journey then it was in the safety of our church community.  

When I stepped out of my safety zone and turned off my phone, I found other moms slowly joined me to laugh at a mysterious shoe disappearance, vent about a meltdown that morning, or celebrate a pregnancy announcement.  Eventually, we started getting together for dinner and coffee dates.  Slowly, I found community with my fellow school moms.  

The truth is, community did not come overnight.  We live in an age where technology is always at our fingertips.  We can safely scroll our social media feeds without making a single attempt at actual human interaction. Yet, it doesn’t feed our soul.  Sure, we might laugh at an incredibly on point motherhood meme or laugh at a clip of a Tim Hawkins video, but it doesn’t fuel us like the face to face conversation between friends. Conversation that brings mutual encouragement, smiles, and joy. 

 We have to let go of the fear of being judged (because, let’s face it, we have this horrible way of making ourselves feel better by being master judgers) and take a risk and talk to someone.  If you are craving a nice conversation with some moms, you might have to be the one to start it.  

The year my son entered kindergarten, I craved conversation with these ladies and it wasn’t until I put my phone down that conversations started happening.  Eventually, I got a little bit more courageous and invited several to brunch.  Ladies actually came! We sat around my patio for way longer than I expected. Toddlers played in the yard, while we sat, talked and ate carbs.  No one was in a hurry to leave until our phones reminded us of the time.  One sweet mom left with the biggest smile on her face, and I know it fed her sweet soul, too!  

The moment I knew I had found friends that were more than just acquaintances, was the day I received a frantic message from another mom needing me to grab her child.  Their house had just been broken into and she was dealing with a rather large mess and a police report. She couldn’t leave and she didn’t want to bring her little one back to the chaos. She needed someone she trusted and it meant a lot to me that I could be that person for her.  My sweet boy got a play date and I baked some cookies to send home to add sweetness to her crummy day.  Community is not only friends to chat with, but friends you can rely on. 

The school-aged years of mom hood are hard.  Our kids are growing more independent by the day, we have a choice to be courageous and allow other moms into our life.  Start by praying.  Take time to pray for those ladies that you see daily. Ask God, to foster those relationships and to provide opportunities to connect with them. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for courage to step into discomfort and take the first step. Be brave and put down your phone. No matter your personality, starting a conversation with someone you don’t know is hard.  Find that mom that you think you might connect with and go compliment her or ask her a question. Take a risk and invite a mom or two for coffee.  See what happens.  And finally, get involved in your child’s school.  Some of my favorite people, I met at our monthly parent club meetings! Before you know it these people will be more than just acquaintances that you get together with once a month.

Finding community in your child’s school is so worth it, once you take the risk.  It definitely doesn’t come easy, but it is completely worth it!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Fall 2019 Goals

Fall is officially upon us, even if I am ignoring the summer-like weather!  And with the change of seasons, I have some goals that I need to be set.  Life is busy.  Soccer season is in full swing as well other commitments.  I have things that I need to work on and so I am setting some goals, publicly, here.

Goal setting is something that I do on a regular basis.  Back when I was living the single life, in a college dorm room, I read a lot of Elizabeth George books.  They were just so inspiring and encouraging to me as I moved into adult hood and what being a woman after God's own heart was like.  In her book Life Management for Busy Women, George spends some time talking about priorities and goal setting. She mentions some of perks of goal setting that include motivation, energy, direction.  She says that, "Goals are drams with deadlines."  I just love that!   These helpful hints have stuck with me for the last 17 years.  I'd say that's some pretty good advice!

I have a planner that I keep all my daily goals written down on.  I love checking things off my list. . . I feel like I am way more productive if the things that I need to do are written down.  I even have a list of long-term goals typed out and taped to the wall.  This helps me stay focused and more productive.  I'll be honest, the idea of sitting around with a box of bon bons and watching a rom-con sounds quite enticing, but that NEVER happens.  Reality is that there is always stuff to be done and places to be.  I'll be honest, sometimes most of the time, I will do something and write it on my list just so I can check it off. 

I have also had to learn to give myself some grace when it comes to setting goals.  Life happens.  Stuff happens.  Things don't always go according to plan and that's okay.  Not everything I put down is going to happen each day and I have to be okay with that.  Knowing what my priorities are helps a lot with that.  If I don't get some cleaning done because my kids needed to talk or just hang out, that's okay. . . they are far more important than the rugs getting vacuumed.  And, to be real, sometimes I try to do WAY too much in one day.  I just can't do it all.  I can try all I want, but I will just run myself ragged.  I have to give myself grace.  I am far from perfect, there will be distractions, other more important things will come up.  I just have to go with it and do the best I can, making sure that those things that are higher priority (God, husband, kids, people, house. . . . ) don't fall between the cracks!

So here are my goals for the Fall:

1.  Lead a group of ladies through the study Open Your Bible, by She Reads Truth/Lifeway.
2.  Paint the ship lap in the bathroom and replace faucets and light.
3.  Finish 2 books.
4.  Work on Jon's quilt
5. Make two baby blankets for gifts
6. Turn 40 (I'm in denial)
7.  Re-organized desk drawers (chaos has arrived!)
8.  Try 3 new recipes
9.  Make coffee sleeves
10.  Restock card supply by working on some of my paper pumpkin boxes I haven't had time for.
11.  Sneak away with the hubby.

Okay, so these are my goals. Do you set goals daily?  Weekly?  monthly? or seasonally?   What are some of yours? I'd love to hear from you and even pray for you.

Other things to read:

:: Feeling overwhelmed?  this post has helpful hints to mark those things off your list.
:: How I use a planner and make lists.
:: on saying No to things.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Double Chocolate Muddy Buddies

I am spending today trying to pretend it's not going to be hot and fall-ifying my house.  Bring on the pumpkins and maybe some cooler weather!  I'll be honest, my sweatshirts are calling my name.  Also, I really just want to drink a latte at a soccer game without breaking into a sweat.  Who's with me? 

Anyways, while I am sitting here stalking the weather app for signs of fall, we need to talk about the amazingness of Chex Cereal.  I'm not sure when the last time I had a bowl of cereal with it, because it's so good as chex mix or combined with chocolate and peanut butter.  We love that it doesn't have soy in it either, which means it's Weston friendly.  Please excuse me while I do a quick happy dance. 
I had bought my chocolate chips and Chex mix last month to whip up a batch for our annual beach trip weekend and then I realized we were out of peanut butter. . . kind of an important when you are making Muddy Buddies.  I was feeling really frustrated because I wanted to make sure Weston had some snacks that he could enjoy while on our trip.  After about an hour of just feeling really bummed, it dawned on me that we had other types of Peanut Butter.  Score!  That's when the amazingness of these comes in to play.  WHITE CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER!!!!!  We may never go back!!!!
 Seriously, these are the best Muddy Buddies we have ever had!  You probably should make these right now because you will probably be thinking of them for weeks (or maybe just days).  I promise you will have no regrets about making these.  In fact, your friends will probably thank you!
 If you don't want to eat all of them, you can make some for your friends, take them to work, or just half the recipe (and then tell your family you used math today).  Then, put your kids to bed and put on a rom-com and relax.  Maybe even share with your husband or a good friend. 

Double Chocolate Muddy Buddies
adapted from the original recipe on the back of the box. 

9 cups of rice chex
1 cup of dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup of White Chocolate Peanut Butter
1/4 cup of butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/1/2 cups powdered sugar

Pour the Chex cereal into a large bowl. 
In a smaller bowl, combine chocolate,  peanut butter and butter together and zap in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute (you wnat a nice smooth consistency).   Stir in vanilla.  Pour over the cereal and gently toss until it is evenly coated.  Pour into a zip lock gallon bag and add powdered sugar.  Shake well until coated.   Pour that onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let it cool.   Take a few bites to test taste. 


We used Guittard dark chocolate chips because they are dairy and soy free and are probably my favorite chocolate chips.

We used Peanut Butter & Co's White Chocolate Wonderful (we buy it at Target or Sprouts)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Summer Art Challenge 2019: Wrap Up

 My youngest came home from school last week so excited to tell me about the art project he worked on at school.  They made pumpkins (because FALL!!!) using the techniques based on the art of Yayoi Kusama.  We looked her up and he was so excited to tell me all about her.  His teacher gave me a sneak peak of their creations and let me tell you, so neat!!! 

I love art.  I love that my kids are falling in love with art and studying the life and styles of the artist.  Watching them as we walk through art galleries, like the National Art Gallery this summer, and have their eyes light up in excitement because they "know" the artist.  I am a firm believe that art is just as important for kids to learn as reading and writing.  It is a way to express feelings and build confidence.  It is a way to relax.  It stirs conversation. It is vital in the development of kids to experience and create art. 

I have always been pretty good about incorporating art into our vacation time, but this past summer, I wanted to be intentional with how I did it.  So, I got online, picked out 6 artists, planned our projects, and checked out as many books as I could find.  I love picture books and there are some beautifully written picture books that captivate the kids (and the parents) and teach them about the artist.  The best part if I didn't actually own a book, I could get online and request it and my local library would tell me it was there.  Best.thing.ever! 

This summer, we studied Kandinsky, Seurat, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, and O'Keeffe.  Each artist had their own unique style, and each week we tried a different method.  We used paper cutting, water colors, oil pastels, tempera paints, q-tips, paint  brushes, and scissors.   We took risks and stepped out of our comfort zones to create a piece of art each week.  We learned history, we read books, we learned things like shading and tints, blending, warm and cool colors, complimentary colors, and so many more things. We learned that some things were time consuming and others took less time. 

Anytime that I get to add beautiful picture books into what we are learning at home makes my teacher-heart/picture book loving heart so happy.  

 I love getting creating with my kids and we can't wait to do some more art when we have a day off soon.  I think my favorite thing was the time it gave us just to sit down and talk while we created.  The conversations that come when you put a art supply in your child's hand are phenomenal.  If you are ever having any trouble making time to be intentional with your kids, I highly recommend planning an art project, or sitting down and doing some coloring together. . . once the hand starts moving, so does the talking.  It's a really beautiful thing!

 Here are the links to each art project:

Van Gogh

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Menu Planning tips and tricks

 It's safe to say that school is full swing around here.  So much so, that progress reports come home today for both of my kiddos.  The weather is changing (I hope, anyways!) into more Fall-like and I am starting to fall into a groove with our routine and after school activities.  It took us 4 weeks, but we got here.

One of the things I don't do that well over the summer is menu planning.  While I don't completely stop menu planning during the summer, it's definitely not as structured.  So, that being said, menu planning is back in full gear.  You can find weekly menu plans saved to my Instagram highlights under meal plans as well as "what's cooking" each night in my highlights. 

Menu planning can be so overwhelming, especially if you have kids.  Let's face it, kids are so picky and temperamental  when it comes to food.  One day they like something, the next day it grosses them out.  Plus, add dinner time sports practices and you might feel like grabbing some chicken nuggets at McDonalds is just so much easier.  So, I thought I would write down some tips and tricks that we use in our home that really help make menu planning and dinner time way less daunting!

Here are ten tricks that might help make your menu planning and dinner time a bit more pleasant and successful.

1.  Make a list of all the foods your family likes to eat. Use that at as a reference so that you aren't eating dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets every single night.  Slowly add new meals every now and then and if they are a hit, make them again the following week.  Last Spring, Weston decided that bacon cheeseburgers were his jam (except, he can't have cheese so eating this at restaurants can't happen).  Suddenly he was asking for sliders and I was able to add another meal option to our list. 

2.  Take advantage of Pinterest.  Start a board just for dinner ideas and as you see them, pin them.  It's way quicker than perusing magazines for a recipe, plus you can see comments on the pin and the original post.  You can easily search dairy free options, paleo, or if you have a hankering for some orange chicken you can search for it easily there. There are other clubs, like e-meals, that you can subscribe to for a small fee that help a lot.  And then, if you really wanted to make things easy, there are meal delivery services like Hello Fresh that help big time with meal planning (and shopping. 

3.  Take note of your calendar.  Keep in mind when you are menu planning the things happening during the day (i.e. your busy days or your crazy evenings).  Don't plan a dinner with a lot of steps if you aren't going to have time  to prep and cook  or if you aren't even going to have time to eat it.  Save those meals for nights when not much is happening. Use your crockpot or your instapot on those busy nights.  I try to plan meals that are easy to prep and throw in bento boxes for soccer nights.  We eat salads, paninis, stuffed sweet potatoes, and stir fry a lot on these nights. 

4.  Make your Grocery List at the same time you plan your meals.  I typically click on the link of the recipe I want to make and check to see if it's even doable.  Then, I go through the ingredients and write them down, especially the ones I know we don't have.  Then, when I finish menu planning, my grocery list is also finished. 

5.  Set rules for eating.  We have a three bite (not nibble) rule in our house, where before you can say you don't like dinner, you must eat three bites.  After that, if you still don't like it, you can make your self a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Now, let me be honest: this does not mean, dinner times are always peaceful and carefree. There are still tears and frustration over three bites, but once it's done, they are okay. They survive.  We also don't allow them to eat chicken nuggets 2 nights in a row.  This rule is fairly new and it is working amazingly!  Sometimes, they even discover they like what we are having for dinner, sometimes they don't.  Don't take it personally. 

6.  Don't always cater to one person.  It's hard to please everyone and sometimes we want to eat something we know our kids won't touch.  That's perfectly fine.  Plan for your kids to have chicken nuggets or a corn dog and have your self something delicious without worrying about your kids yelling at you.  Tonight I made salmon, even though my not so picky child (who loves fish) can't have salmon because it makes him sick (recent discovery. . . he's really sad).  Everything worked out. 

7.  Eat the rainbow.  Find ways that will get your kids to eat their veggies and incorporate that into your menu plan.  We roast our veggies a lot and I am amazed that my oldest will devour some butternut squash and brussels sprouts like they are going out of style.

8.  Plan for the unexpected.  I always try to keep a few "emergency" dinners for nights when nothing goes as planned. . . like forgetting to get out the meat, or busier than normal day.  Always have some Trader Joe's Orange Chicken in the freezer just in case.

9.  Know your budget.  Don't go out and blow your budget in the first week.  Figure out where to shop for the best foods for the best prices.  I spend way too much time shopping between my several go-to stores (Amazon Prime is a game changer when it comes to Whole Foods!), but stores like Walmart are starting to offer some really good clean options and you can have your whole order brought to your car.  I am a huge fan of Trader Joes and Sprouts, as well as Target (If someone would just tell them how much better their pick up service would be if they did cold stuff!).  Every now and then, I venture into our local Grocery Outlet because every now and then they have some great non-dairy, non soy finds for way cheaper than I can find else where.  It's worth the hunt sometimes!

10.   Don't get discouraged.   You and your family need to eat and scrounging around trying to find something for dinner at the last minute makes your evening more stressful.  Having a meal planned and ready to cook makes you more likely to eat healthier and together as a family.  Don't give up the first week.  It takes 28 days for something to become a habit.  Not every week is perfect, but hang in there, you will find your groove and what works for you and your busy schedule.

Meal planning is definitely something that I find important.  If I didn't menu plan, I might make Jon pick up Chick Fil A on the way home every night.   Ha Ha.  I hope these tips help you out.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Friday Favorites: Ethan Edition

 Today my oldest is eleven and I'm finding it hard to believe that my baby is growing up! In fact, he's seriously growing!  I'm pretty sure that he will be taller than me by the time he finishes 5th grade (so is everyone else!).  Ethan is a joy to be around (most of the time, anyway) and has so many great thoughts and ideas.  Apart from some tween angst, he is so much fun to just hang out with! Because it's his birthday, I decided to ask him what some things he's really loving these days.  

1.  Prince Warrior Series - Ethan started this series last year, but really dove in over the Spring and finished all 4 books over the summer.  These books are written by Priscilla Shirer and are adventure books that tell a story of adventure in the land of Ahoratos and fighting off the enemy in the unseen.  Throughout the story, she weaves the armor of God that is found in Ephesians 6. 

Ethan absolutely loved these books and couldn't put them down.  He is a huge Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fan and said that these were better than Harry Potter.  So, If you have a tween boy, I highly recommend these books!

2. Lego Architecture Sets - Ethan has always been a lego fan, but as he has gotten older, he has moved away from sets that are quick and easy, or even inspire pretend play.  Lego's are no longer his go-to toy to play with, unless he and his brother and building some crazy house or building cars to race down the hallway.  As he has gotten older, he has found that he still loves the satisfaction of creating something over time.  The architecture sets are more difficult and time consuming that they bring that satisfaction of creating something over time and still getting to play with Legos. . . just in a more grown up way.  

3. Kids Read Truth Study Books - Last fall, Ethan asked me to write him a Bible Study starting in Genesis and going through the whole Bible.  And while his desire to dig deep into God's Word makes my heart so happy, I couldn't help but think how much work that was.  Thankfully, my favorite Bible Study people (she reads truth), came out with some great resources for tweens and teens that allow them to open their Bibles daily, read scripture, and do a little journaling.  He's currently working on his second book and he's loving them!

4.  Games - Ethan lives and breathes sports, but he also loves a good, competitive game!  This past weekend at our annual family trip to the beach, he joined in on a few of the more difficult card games and caught on pretty quick.  Whether video games or a quick game of soccer in the backyard or some corn hole or clue, as long as he's playing a fun game with his people his cup is being filled.  His love language is definitely quality time, and playing games fits right in!  

5. Adventure and Experiences - Ethan has inherited our love of traveling and is always on the lookout for what we are going to do next.  Once he hit double digits, he got to pick between a friends party or an adventure.  He keeps picking adventures so I'm super happy. This year he picked an Earthquakes game and I think it's going to be a fun trip!  He soaks in our summer adventures even though we are all incredibly tired afterwards starts planning our next trip.  He loves adventure and good food.  I love that he's not all that into physical objects, but it sure makes it hard to shop for him!
 And that's Ethan's favorite things! Now, I am ready to celebrate his eleventh birthday with delicious food and quite possibly, ice cream.


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