Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Parenting Quick Tip: Packing the Diaper Bag

Have several young kids sharing one diaper bag and heading to the nursery or daycare?  Put each kiddo's change of clothes and diapers in a Ziploc bag with his/her name and your cell number on it.  No need to label each piece of clothing. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

He Thinks My Kisses are Magical

In the last several months, Bear has begun doing the most endearing yet heartbreaking thing ever.  When he's hurt or heartbroken, his pouty face could turn the coldest heart to a puddle of mush.  He turns his bottom lip down and feigns the back of his hand against his eyebrow (definitely need to snap a pic of this face).  But what's even sadder is that if one of his meany sisters has hurt him, he cries silently.  He huffs and puffs for minutes, trying to convince himself that he doesn't need to cry, but the look on his face nearly moves me to tears before he ever cries out in pain.

"Look," has become his catch phrase.  "Look," as he shows me the red mark on his forehead where he just ran into the wall.  "Look," as he displays the finger that was just pinched.  "Look," at the invisible ouchy that's causing so much pain.  And who knew that, "Look," could be so beautiful.

Because in it he says, "Look, momma, only you can fix this.  I need you.  I want you.  Please make me feel better."

And as much as it hurts me to see my child hurt, there is beauty in it.

You see, he BELIEVES my kisses are magical. 

So I kiss him.  And he does (feel better).  

I know that Lila wants to believe my kisses are magical, but she also knows that the pain still lingers after the kiss, and often her tears do, too.  That doesn't mean she doesn't ask for kisses, and I sure don't mind giving them.  But with Bear, my kisses are truly magical and instantly stop tears and pain, and I pray they always will be and always do.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Domestic Goddess Quick Tip: Laundry

Do one load of laundry per day rather than waiting for "laundry day" to tackle it all.  Get in the habit of putting a load of wash in as soon as the kids are in bed.  Switch it to the dryer when you head to bed, and fold it and put it away first thing in the morning.  Laundry becomes much more manageable when handled this way, preventing mountains of dirty clothes from piling up.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Meal Planning: Shopping from Your Pantry

If you're like me and until now haven't been very conscientious about meal planning and grocery shopping, you probably find you have a lot of canned or boxed food in your pantry that needs to be used.  Though I planned a March Meal Plan, I decided to replace next week's meals with recipes that utilize as many of my on-hand ingredients as possible.  I started by pulling everything out of the pantry: pasta, rice, boxed goods/mixes, canned goods, and then pairing items I thought would be found in recipes together.  With the help of All Recipes Ingredient search tool, I was able to plan FOUR of my dinners for next week, use all of these items, and only shop for three additional ingredients I was missing! (Note: we have a small deep freeze in the basement where I keep meat on hand, so I didn't have to purchase any meat for these recipes!)

So replacing the meals I have on my menu for next week, here's what I came up with:

Hearty Hamburger Stew
Ingredients on hand: hamburger, onions, barley, diced tomatoes, beef broth, carrots, spices
Need to purchase: celery, tomato soup

Pork Chop and Rice Casserole
Everything on Hand but the pork chops

Pizza Pasta Bake
Everything on hand

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Everything on hand

If you haven't shopped from your pantry prior to meal planning, I highly recommend it.  You'll be amazed at what you already have on hand, and you'll be discouraged from getting take out.  My husband's thrilled at how this will save on our grocery budget this week, and I'm thrilled that my shopping will take half as long.  

Have you shopped from your pantry before?  Take a peek..what meals were you able to come up with?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Parenting Quick Tip: Waste Less Food

Tired of throwing away uneaten food from your kiddo's meals?  Start with small portions.  You can always scoop up seconds, but once served, you often throw out uneaten food.  By starting with smaller portions, you'll save on your grocery budget and may find that you have more leftovers to serve up for future meals.  And if you have a child who tends to overeat, smaller portions can help discourage that as well. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spread the Word to End the Word 2013

I'm embarrassed to admit that the word "retarded" was a part of my every day vocabulary prior to having Bear. I think most of us find ourselves using it when in reality we mean, "ridiculous." Today and every day, make a conscious effort to use ridiculous or some other more appropriate word in its place. Help Spread the Word to End the Word! 

The Lucky Ones

When Bear was a little over a year old, his physical therapist mentioned that she was working with a family w/ a newborn with Down syndrome and that the mom was wanting to connect with other mommas.  I was thrilled to meet someone in the area who was on the same journey, so I agreed to exchange contact info.  That mom and I met and closed down Starbucks that night.  And time went on and both of us became more connected to the Down syndrome community in our area.  Before we knew it, there were about 15 of us in the Indy/north Indy area, so we started a Facebook group to be able to connect regularly.  Last summer, we had our first official girls' night out and since then our group has nearly tripled in size to almost 50. 

We've gained a lot of new mommas to the group over the past few months, and when meeting a new momma, it's so hard to remember that she is probably still reeling and coping with some grief, because on the other side of that grief is such joy and deep love.  Those first months after the diagnosis is a really hard place to revisit because they were awfully lonely and dark days filled with fear of the unknown.  So at our girls' night out this fall, I was telling some moms from our group (called Moms of Kids with Down syndrome) that at first it's so scary and that we have to grieve the loss of the child we thought we would have.  But as time progresses and we get to love our wonderful children, we realize we're the lucky ones for having a child with special needs.  And so our group became, "The Lucky Ones."

I can't begin to describe what this group of women has meant to me.  Our daily Facebook posts of questions, concern, encouragement, and inspiration get me through those times of discouragement when Bear isn't progressing like his typical peers.  I've made some dear, dear friends through this group...girls who upon meeting for the first time become instant sisters (because when you share something like Down syndrome, you forget all the small talk and get right to the core of the issue: did your child have open heart surgery when he/she was a few months old?  Did you have to have a G tube?  Is your 3-year-old walking yet?  4-year-old talking?  5-year-old potty trained?  What have you done about Medicaid Waiver? Social Security? and so on and so forth.  Oh how your topics of conversation change when you have a little one with special needs.)

What doesn't change is our fierce love for our children.  Like any mom, we would give our lives for our kids; we just get to experience the raw, unbridled love that comes with a child with special needs.  And if you didn't read my post On Love the other day, now would be a good time to do so.  Love does not mean it's all warm fuzzies all the time.  Love defined is seeking to know and intentionally meet the legitimate needs of another.  I can't think of a more appropriate definition of how "lucky" we are to LOVE our special kids!

Monday, March 4, 2013

What's Cooking: Recipes for Chicken Enchiladas, Chopped Salad, and Smoothies

I promise I have no intention of becoming a cooking blog, but since posting my March 2013 Monthly Meal Plan last week, I've had several requests for some of my recipes.  So I hope to occasionally share them with you so that you can use them in your own meal planning, too.  Know that I rarely make meals that take longer than 30 minutes to prepare or that require fancy ingredients.  Neither are practical to our lifestyle, so I try to make choices that are both financially and nutritionally reasonable for our family.

First off, tonight's dinner is chicken enchiladas.  This is a super easy recipe (most of mine are) and one my mom made often while we were growing up.  It's also an easy freezer meal, so plan on doubling your ingredients and making a pan to freeze.  (Note, if you're a "spicy Mexican food lover" this recipe is not ideal for you.  You'll want to add some flare!)

Chicken Enchiladas
4 c. diced, uncooked chicken (or a 28 oz. can of deboned chicken)
1/2 c. diced onions
1 1/3 cups milk
2 tsp. (2 cubes) chicken bouillon
1 can cream of chicken soup
10 flour tortillas (I prefer the taco or fajita size..can also use whole wheat)
1 package of shredded cheese (I prefer mozzarella)

Optional fixings:
Lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, salsa, etc.

1.  Place 1-2 tablespoons oil in a skillet and add chicken and onions.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink.
2.  Add 1/3 cup milk and chicken bouillon.  Cook until bouillon is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat.
3.  Mix remaining 1 cup milk w/ 1 can cream of chicken soup.  Pour half into greased 9x13 dish.
4.  Place 1-2 spoonfuls of chicken mixture in a tortilla.  Fold up bottom, fold in sides, and fold down top.  Place seam down in the 9x13 mixture.  Repeat, making 2 rows of enchiladas and 10 total

5. Pour rest of soup mixture over enchiladas.  Cover with foil.
6.  Bake at 325 for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and cover with shredded cheese.  Bake for another 15 minutes.
7.  Remove and top with fixings (optional).

Suggestions: Spice up by adding chopped or canned peppers or chiles.  Serve with Spanish Rice, Refried Beans, or Guacamole.  TIP: You won't need an entire onion for this recipe, but since you're already dicing one up, go ahead and measure the leftovers, place in a freezer bag and label it, and put in the freezer for future recipes.  

The following recipe is one of my favorites for lunch.  I love how versatile it is.  Definitely not one I make for the kiddos, but my husband and I both love it.

Chopped Salad
Baby spinach, romaine or salad of choice (chopped or torn to pieces)
Feta Cheese
Mandarin Oranges, Chopped Apples, Chopped Strawberries (and/or fruit of choice)
Dried cherries, cranberries or fruit of choice
Chopped Pecans, slivered almonds, or nuts of choice

1/ 4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp. Dried Mustard (I never seem to have this on hand, so I always give a squeeze of regular mustard--no need to measure.  Just don't overdo it)
1 tsp. salt
1 T. grated onion or dried onion (optional)oppyseed

Place desired amounts of salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss.  Add salad dressing. 

Suggestions: To ensure longer fridge life for your salad, add croutons and dressing to each individual bowl instead of tossing w/ entire salad.  I can usually get a large salad to last 2-3 days by using this method.  You can also add some cooked, diced chicken breast to add some yummy protein.  In more of a greek, vinagrette mood?  Leave out the fruit, add some black olives & chicken and enjoy.  Serve with warm flat bread!

And finally, smoothies.  My sweet neighbor who shared the recipe for the Chicken Tortilla Soup told me awhile back that they have a smoothie every morning for breakfast.  It seems that juicing and/or smoothies are all the rage right now, so I thought I'd give it a try as a way to sneak some extra nutrients and vitamins into our diet.  One quick Google search, and you'll have endless smoothie recipes on your hand, so don't be afraid to experiment with your ingredients.  Here's one that's working for us:

1 banana
1 cup frozen strawberries or berries of choice
1/2  cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup plain vanilla yogurt (regular or frozen)
1 tsp. flax seed (great for fiber)
1/2 cup spinach, kale or cooked carrots (optional, but a great way to sneak in some veggies)

Place ingredients in a blender of your choice and puree away.  NOTE: You can add more milk if your liquid is too thick.

Suggestions:  Currently, my children are 4, 2 1/2, and 1 years old.  Smoothie drinking is a SLOW process, especially if the consistency is too thick or frozen.  I've opted for adding more milk and removing some of the frozen ingredients so that we can get them down a little faster in the morning.  :)
 Hopefully these recipes will help you in your weekly or monthly meal planning.  ENJOY!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

On Love

A couple of months ago a friend posted this video, and after laughing my way through it, I followed the link at the end to It Starts at Home.  At the time, I was suffering through an incredibly busy and stressful holiday season with my business and was feeling the tug of being more intentional with my children.  After spending some time on the site, I ordered the book and have been making my way through it, albeit slowly.

In It Starts at Home by Kurt Bruner and Steve Stroope, they take on the challenge of nurturing our kids' faith at home and not relying solely on the Church and its programs to fill that role.  But more importantly, before they even mention parenting, they spend a significant section of the book on marriage and how a healthy marriage is imperative in helping nurture our kids' faith.  Though I can't possibly summarize that entire section, much of it was useful and biblically sound advice.  And while it's directed at marriage, I couldn't help but apply the following thought to all relationships:

Love is a commitment.  It is a commitment to first discover and then intentionally meet the legitimate needs of others.  Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to feel good about people. (see Philippians 2:3-4)
I wrestled with this thought for days, weeks.  For so long I had associated love with "warm fuzzies" and feeling good about the people I love (after all, I had grown up reading and watching fairy tales and happily ever after).  I condemned myself for not being able to easily love everyone, especially fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  And as I allowed this new definition of love to start to take root in my heart, I felt a burden lifted.  No longer did loving someone mean that I had to be his/her best friend.  No longer did I have to experience warm fuzzies in order to love.  (I'm certain warm fuzzies were the farthest thing from Christ's mind and emotions as he took our place on the cross and displayed the ultimate love for us.)  It simply means that because Christ has commanded me to love that I seek to know and meet the needs of others. Applying this framework of love beyond marriage, the following excerpt would read like this (parentheses mine): 
(Warm fuzzies) Romantic feelings are a wonderful, God-given part of (close relationships) dating and marriage.  But they are the effect, not the cause.  In a healthy (relationship) marriage we choose to love even when we don't feel very loving, often prompting loving feelings to follow.  In an unstable (relationship) marriage it works the other way around: We wait for loving feelings to inspire loving choices.  True, lasting love is more about conscious choices than chance encounters.  We commit ourselves to another human being and accept the dual responsibility of learning and meeting their needs.
Of course I still struggle with this.  Warm fuzzies are a wonderful effect of love, and it would be much easier to love others if a dose of warm fuzzies came with every act of love.  But not every act of love is greeted with open arms and sometimes we have to love simply because we've been commanded to do so. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Monthly Meal Plan March 2013

Allow me to preface this post by saying that in my life BC (before children), I was a public school teacher for four and a half years.  Year four was when I finally felt like I was "getting it" and was comfortable in what I was doing as a teacher.  And now, I'm at four years and three months of being a mom, and I feel like I'm finally starting to figure it out.  Having three babies in as many years definitely threw me into survival mode, and it's been a long exhausting journey getting here, but I finally feel like I'm somewhat in control of my role as a wife, mom, and domestic goddess.  :)

That being said, I've been trying to find ways to maximize my time w/ my children and alleviate those high-stress periods throughout the day, primarily the chaos that ensues at meal times and during meal prep.  Also, my husband and I have been talking about some big dreams which includes really sticking to a budget, and I know one of the quickest ways to reduce spending is to plan and prepare meals at home so that I'm not tempted to pick up carry out or order a pizza.  Thanks to the inspiration of several blogs I follow, I decided to start doing a monthly meal plan that includes preparing freezer foods and meals.  I particularly like what Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler uses, so I adopted her model.

I spent four hours last night planning and preparing (there's a big learning curve initially if you're like me and tend to plan one or two days out but often find that you're flying by the seat of your pants).  I began by creating a master list of meals and foods that I commonly prepare and/or want to add to my repertoire (I hope to post several of those recipes eventually).  From there I looked at which ones had common ingredients and could be prepared in bulk as freezer meals.   Knowing your family's weekly activities is key, so I planned a big pasta lunch for Sundays after church and simple meals for Tuesday evenings since I attend a women's group then.  And of course, planning meals that will have enough leftovers for lunch is a huge time saver. 

You'll note that I have breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner posted each weekday.  Weekends often include travel and social events, so I left those open for leftovers or using a freezer meal.  I plan to do my grocery shopping on Friday mornings and freezer meals prep on the weekends.  (Friday is also our trash day, so it's a great day to make sure leftovers are used up and the fridge is cleaned out.  Like I said, there's so much to consider when starting this journey!)  And just because it's on the menu doesn't mean I can't be flexible.  I'm sure as the month goes on, we'll have things come up that will force me to modify as we go.

So I went grocery shopping early this morning sans kids (thanks to my awesome hubby), came home and cut up and froze three pounds of strawberries, threw a whole chicken in the crockpot (I'll debone it and cut the meat up to freeze for casserole use), and have another crockpot of soup cooking (also a freezer meal).  And now it's 10:15 and I'm sitting down with my coffee in hand and kiddos on either side as we enjoy Sesame Street.

So now that you know a little bit about my planning process, here's my menu!  Enjoy and modify for your own use!


Click here to download your Monthly Meal Plan, March 2013 (Word document, editable)

What's Cooking: Recipe Chicken Tortilla Soup

I have one of the best neighbors ever.  Seriously.  Ever.  She is a Christian woman with 2 young kiddos, and she is incredibly thoughtful, kind, and generous.  I cannot tell you how many times she has shown up on my doorstep with food or hand-me-downs in hand.  My girls are never in need of clothes, and we're often thankful for a surprise treat or full-blown meal.  I don't know if she'll ever fully understand what a blessing she is in my life or how thankful I am for her.

What's cooking in my kitchen right now is her recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Few meals are simpler than certain soup recipes, and most of the time they are freezer-friendly and provide ample leftovers, so I love making a big pot of soup (not to mention, they make the house smell so yummy!).  This one took me 5 minutes to prepare.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked
2 cans of black beans (undrained)
2 cans of stewed tomatoes (preferably the Mexican seasoned ones)
1 14.5 oz. can tomato sauc
1 cup salsa
1- 4 oz can peeled, diced green chiles

Fixings (optional):
Tortilla Chips or Strips
Shredded Cheese
Sour Cream

1.  Place all ingredients in a crockpot on high for 8 hours (or less...until chicken is tender and falling apart)
2.  Just before serving, remove chicken breasts and shred.  Return to crock pot.
3.  Serve with fixings (optional).

Suggestions: You can spice this soup up by using black beans with jalapenos or substitute the green chiles for canned/diced jalapenos.  You could also slice up some avocado to add upon serving, serve with guacamole, or add some frozen or canned corn while cooking.  ENJOY!