Yet Another Woman’s Perspective

When I was little, my older brother and I argued a lot. When my dad would get fed up with our bickering, he would mock us in a shrill voice, whining, “I hate you. You hate me. I hate you more. Waah, waah, waah.” It made us realize how annoying we were and usually got us to stop.

I can’t help but think of this as I see what is currently happening in our nation. We have become so incredibly selfish on both sides. It is so sad. As I review coverage of the Women’s March on Saturday that took place in several cities worldwide, I have such mixed feelings. On one hand I think, “Yeah! Women are making history right now!” On the other hand I can’t believe how much vulgarity has been embraced to get a point across.

I get it. It’s protest art. Expression comes in many forms and sometimes vulgarity is the one guaranteed way to be heard, to get noticed, to (seemingly) be taken seriously. But I personally, have a very difficult time understanding those who diminish the purpose of such an important movement by dousing it in tasteless expletives and crude images. I kept thinking about how amazing it would have been to take my daughter to witness a women’s movement first hand. It would have been incredible to show her what the suffragists did to earn us the right to vote.

There were so many things represented at Saturday’s march that are invaluably important to me, and that I hope are important to her when she is old enough to understand. Things like pay equality, access to healthcare, environmental preservation, protection from human trafficking, and abolishing rape culture in our society. However, we didn’t go because my 5-year-old daughter doesn’t need to be exposed to illustrations of bloody vaginas. My little fashionista doesn’t need to know that the pink hats everyone was donning (and that she probably would have wanted for herself) are referred to as “pussyhats,” and no, not because those ladies like cats. My young reader doesn’t need to add abortion or c-u-n-t to her vocabulary. She’s too smart to see something on a sign and not ask what it means. She’s too innocent to understand any of it. And she, even at 5, is too deserving of respect and honesty for me to lie to her if she did ask. So, we didn’t go.

I came to find out, afterward, that we probably wouldn’t have been welcomed anyway. In fact, we may have even been turned away. You see, access to healthcare for women is something that I mentioned is very important to me. WARNING: Unpopular opinion! To me that doesn’t mean abortion specifically. I, personally, am pro-life. You will never convince me otherwise. That does NOT make me anti-woman. It is so much more complex than that.

I believe women should have affordable access to healthcare. I believe women should have a safe place to receive medical services. I believe women should have affordable access to contraceptives, Paps, mammograms, and breast ultrasounds. I believe women facing unplanned pregnancy should be informed of ALL the possible choices they could make, and the long-term consequences of those choices. I believe women in these situations should have access to counseling, prenatal care, and adoption coordination services. Healthcare for women shouldn’t be more expensive just because our anatomy is different or because we carry a greater reproductive responsibility than men. I learned that my less-popular opinion about one component of women’s healthcare may have invalidated my presence and opinion on every other issue that was covered on Saturday. Ridiculous, if you ask me. Ridiculous if you ask the women who were turned away too.

The other thing that bothered me about Saturday’s march was its trigger. The march was organized after Trump was elected to be POTUS. Sorry to break it to you ladies, but Trump is not the source of our problems. Yes, he may perpetuate traits that we hate, and yes, he has been elected into a huge position of power, but quite frankly, we should have been marching decades ago. Pay inequality is nothing new. Sadly, rape culture may as well be referred to as the status quo. And we’ve been burning our planet into oblivion for a long time now. I understand that women are worried about what this administration is capable of doing. However, we needed to paint signs and get riled up a long time ago. And we need to be motivated by more than just our current government to stand up for what we believe is right. It starts in our homes. It begins with how we raise our sons and daughters. It is affected by how we work and who we choose to work for. It is built on how we treat other women, how we treat others in general, and how we treat ourselves.

Again, my feelings about Saturday’s march are very jumbled up right now. I am proud to be a woman. I am delighted to live in a country where so many women were able to stand up and march for their cause. I do wish that it would have been more inclusive of every woman who wanted to be there, and I wish that it could have been more appropriate for women of all ages.  With that said, I do think the 2017 Women’s March opened some eyes and started some conversations. So now, ladies, the world is watching. What are we going to let them see? What are we going to stand for? How are we going to present ourselves?

Simplified Thanksgiving

Oh my goodness. I’ve been seriously slacking in the blog department. The last month and a half has been absolutely crazy. Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week already?! This is actually the first year in a few years that I’m not hosting Thanksgiving. My mom wanted to host this year at her house which actually works out wonderfully with everything we’ve had going on. Since my mom is hosting, my contribution will be the green bean casserole and the cranberry sauce.

Normally, if I were hosting, I would plan to prepare a Thanksgiving menu of the following:

Appetizers

Cheese & Crackers

Shrimp Cocktail

Deviled Eggs

Main Course & Sides

Herb Roasted Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing

Garlic and Butter Mashed Potatoes

Green Bean Casserole

Candied Sweet Potato Casserole

Homemade Orange Cranberry Sauce

Butterhorn rolls (from scratch)

Dessert

Pumpkin Pie

Assorted Cookies

I’m pretty sure Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that our whole family gets together with no expectation of gifts. It’s simply time together with a lot of food. What more could you ask for?

My family has always had holiday meals at 1:00 p.m. That time gives the hostess plenty of time to finish any preparations without anyone harassing her in the kitchen. Come on now, I’m not the only one! It also allows for guests who live a little further away to make the drive without being rushed. What that means this year is that we’ll eat at my mom’s house throughout the afternoon, but after we all return home, we’ll probably still need to eat again. Plus, I’m still going to selfishly want my own leftovers for our family of 4. So, I’m planning to do a condensed Thanksgiving dinner for that evening. What’s on my mini menu?

Oven Roasted Turkey Tenderloins

Cornbread Stuffing (Basically a duplicate of the exact same stuffing my mom makes. It’s my favorite!)

Garlic and Butter Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Pumpkin Pie

I’m planning to prep in the morning before we go to my mom’s. That way, when we get home I can throw the potatoes in a pot on the stove, and everything else in the oven. Shouldn’t take longer than an hour.

What does your family eat on Thanksgiving? Share in the comments below!

What To Pack for School Lunches

If you checked out my last blog about How to Become a Meal Planning Master, you’re probably wondering what our family eats when there aren’t leftovers for lunch without having to buy extra groceries. This post will mostly show you what my kid’s lunches look like during the school week. Don’t worry, this isn’t a crazy long list of a million different packed lunches like you may have seen floating around online. Honestly, what working mom has the time or money to do a completely different packed lunch for their kiddo every single day? I know I don’t. Plus, seriously, my kids are 5 & 8…they like eating the same sorts of things. They don’t need a new gourmet dish for every lunch. Kudos to you if you are a bento lunch expert. Maybe I’m just slightly jealous of your capabilities, but these lunches are a little more practical for our family.

I hit the jackpot with my kids’ school because there are no restrictions on what they can bring for lunch. It wasn’t always that way. My son was at a different school when he started kindergarten, At that school, if he even thought of bringing anything with nuts in it, he would be banished to a table with all the other exiled children who made the same mistake. My son hated it. PB&J is his absolute favorite type of sandwich, but it made him feel like he was in trouble when he had to be separated from his friends for wanting it in his lunch. Now that my kids are at their current school, I am so appreciative that they don’t segregate students based on what’s in their lunchbox. It makes it so much easier to pack lunches that my kids like and lunches they will eat.

My goal when I pack lunches for school is to pack enough food to get them through the day, but not so much that it will be wasted. I also try to pack items that will keep in their insulated lunchboxes until their scheduled lunchtime. Once the weather gets a little colder, I’ll whip out the thermoses and throw some warm entrees in the mix. We’ve had unusually warm weather this fall though, so they have just had cold lunches so far this school year. Their lunches will always have a source of protein, a fruit or veggie (or both), a complex carbohydrate, and a drink.

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Cashews, clementine, sweet peppers, homemade yellow squash muffin,banana/granola bar

 

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PB&J sandwich on whole grain seed bread, Applesauce, Celery sticks, Goldfish crackers
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Yogurt, Banana/clementine, Veggie stix, PB&J sandwich crackers
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Cheese tortilla roll-up, hummus, celery sticks, granola bar
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PB&J sandwich on whole grain seed bread, roasted almonds, clementine
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Tuna salad, Ritz crackers, Apple slices, Granola bar

These are just a few examples of what my kids usually have in their (mostly) vegetarian packed lunches. I stick with what I know my kids like and what I already have on hand. The main way to keep these simple lunches from getting old and boring is to switch up what veggies and fruits accompany them. I shop seasonally. That helps me save money and add some variety.

The most important thing to remember is that deciding what to pack shouldn’t be a complex task. It’s school lunch, not a gourmet cooking competition show. Just be sure your kiddos are getting the right nutrition and eating enough food to get them through their school day. What do you pack for your kids’ lunches? Share in the comments below!

 

How to Become a Meal Planning Master

Today I’m going to fill you all in on one of the main ways I help our family to save a TON of money each month. You’ve probably heard it before and maybe you even already do this, but one of the best ways to reduce spending on food is MEAL PLANNING! If you are not familiar with meal planning or if you have thought about giving it a go but are so overwhelmed by the idea, this post is for you! I am going to give you free step-by-step instructions for creating your own meal plan for your budget. Let’s get to it!

Step 1 – The first thing you are going to want to determine is how long you want to plan for. It really is all your preference. For our family, I have set our grocery budget to $400.00 per month, so I like to plan out my menu for the entire month at a time. This way I can be sure that I won’t overspend earlier in the month and then have to compensate for it toward the end of the month.

Step 2 – Once you decide how far out you want to plan your meals, pick a calendar template to use. You can use a paper agenda and pencil, a white board and dry erase marker, or an electronic format. I personally like to use a calendar such as google calendars or Microsoft Word. I tend to want to move things around or change my mind a lot during the planning process and an electronic format makes is simpler for me to do that.

Step 3 – The next step is to look at your schedule and determine which nights you don’t have to cook dinner. Our family has designated every Friday night as a family pizza night so I fill in each Friday spot with “Pizza.” My husband teaches a training class every Thursday evening, so the kids and I eat leftovers. My full-time work schedule means I have more time on Sunday evenings for special recipes than I would during the week. I also consider my Monday evening dance class. Whatever I make on Mondays needs to be quick and easy to prepare. We usually attend church on Saturday evenings. Since my hubby works there, he eats there. It’s just me and the kiddos so dinner is quick and easy. If it’s a weekend when I am leading worship, the church provides dinner for me.

Basically, this process helps me to simplify how to approach the month. That way I don’t plan to make something that I either won’t have time to prepare or that won’t get eaten. This eliminates buying extra groceries that will not get used which means extra savings and less wasted food.

Step 4 – Think of your family’s favorite meals and what type of meals those are. That way you can plan for a variety of textures and flavors throughout the week. I like to rotate with a pattern of:

  • Sunday – Special recipe
  • Monday – Pasta
  • Tuesday – Either Asian (stir-fry or fried rice) or Veggie Bowls
  • Wednesday – Some kind of stew or soup. (These dishes usually leave us with A LOT of leftovers so it also provides lunches and/or dinner for Thursday.)
  • Thursday – Either leftovers or easy and kid-friendly
  • Friday – Pizza
  • Saturday – Quick & kid-friendly

Sometimes I will mix up the rotation but this is the general framework that I start with. When we were eating more meat I would try to rotate chicken, ground turkey, seafood, and the occasional red meat. This helps so your family doesn’t get bored with eating the same type of meal everyday.

Step 5 – Pull out your recipe books or pull up Pinterest on your computer and start picking which recipes you want to make for each day of your plan. I like to use the full name of the recipe or close abbreviations on my calendar so that I can easily refer back to my Pinterest board when I need the recipe. It saves me from having to print out each recipe and also saves me search time. Below is my plan for dinner for the entire month of October.

October 2016 Dinners

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1
Roast Pumpkin, Herb & Walnut Pasta Bake Bulgar, BlackBean, Mushroom Enchilada Casserole (Prepare on Sunday) Bliss Bowls w/Baked Falafel Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Church Couples Retreat Church Couples Retreat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Breakfast for Dinner Tomato, Kale & WB Gnocchi Shrimp & Broccoli Stir-fry w/Rice Bissara w/ Naan L/O Pizza Quesadillas w/Beans & Avocado
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes Tortellini Alfredo w/Salad Bliss Bowl CP Black Bean & Quinoa Stew L/O Pizza Church Food
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Creamy Tomato Soup w/Bread Stir-fry w/Tofu & Rice Orzo & Scallops CP Black Bean & Lentil Soup L/O Pizza Apple Gouda Grilled Cheese
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Dinner at Rachelle’s (Bring Salad) Chili w/Cornbread Roasted Butternut Squash w/Udon Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Dinner Out Boca Sandwiches w/SP Fries
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
Chicken & Dumplings Jack-o-lantern Pizza Stir-fry w/Tofu & Udon CP White Bean & SD Tomato Soup L/O Pizza Black Bean Pasta a la Vodka

You’ll see it shows my overlapping days from the previous month and my tentative plan for the first few days of November. I’m not including October 29-31 in this October’s budget because that grocery run will fall into November’s budget. You’ll also see that it reflect the dates when I know I won’t need to prepare dinner.

Step 6 – Create a grocery list for the whole month, separated by each week based on your plan. I usually get my grocery shopping done on Friday afternoons, so my grocery “week” is from Friday through the following Thursday. It helps to know the average price of each of the items you usually purchase. When I make my list I include the non-sale price of each item in parenthesis. Once I have every item listed, I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for that week. Then I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for the entire month.

21

This month my total for dinners comes out to $198.73. This figure does not include Friday night pizza because even though we usually do frozen, we’ll occasionally order it from a local shop. We usually spend no more than $12 total. That means I have $201.27 remaining to spend on pizza, breakfast, lunch, and snack items.

With some additional planning, I am easily able to buy everything else I need with my remaining amount. Usually, something on the list of dinner groceries will provide leftovers for snacks, like extra celery, cherry tomatoes or carrots. Plus, I usually make dinners that will provide leftover lunches for me and my husband to eat the next day. Again, the calendar helps me figure out which days I won’t have leftovers for lunch and then I can plan accordingly.

My kids both have ADHD, which means that we don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged, expensive snack foods because they have a tendency to binge if we keep those items in the house. Instead, I try to buy things like roasted almonds, baby carrots, yogurt, and cheese in bulk. I do cave on a few things like Goldfish crackers, granola bars, and apple sauce. Since I buy in bulk, these items work not only as snack items, but also as things I can easily pack in my kids’ lunches on school days.

Breakfast items are easy. I buy at least one dozen eggs and a loaf of bread each week. Then I keep cereal and oatmeal stocked in the pantry. I also usually make a batch of muffins weekly. I will buy bagels and cream cheese too if they are on sale. Between all of these items, there is always something for everyone to enjoy for breakfast.

Other weekly items include, seasonal fruit, bananas, milk and/or almond milk, juice boxes for lunches, and coffee creamer. Here’s how it breaks down:

Monthly – $43.97

  • Almonds $14.99
  • Cheese $9.99
  • Yogurt $6.00
  • Goldfish crackers – $7.00 (the BIG box)
  • Apple sauce $5.99

Weekly – $23.85

  • Eggs – $1.88
  • Bread – $2.50
  • Milk – $1.99
  • Seasonal fruit (grapes, apples, pears) – $3
  • Bananas – $4   This is a ton of bananas, I know, but we eat a lot of them and they also get used in baked items like muffins or banana bread.
  • Oatmeal – $1.50
  • Cereal – $4 Our local grocery store usually has cereal for about $2/box. Sometimes I can find cereal for $1.25/box at King Soopers (Kroger) and save even more!
  • Juice boxes – $1.99
  • Creamer – $2.99 King Soopers usually does a deal at least once a month where the creamer I like goes on sale for only $1.99/bottle. When that happens, I usually stock up for the next few weeks.

Okay, so let’s review what we’ve got so far. In October, I am planning to spend $198.73 on dinners, $43.97 on monthly bulk items, about $95.40 on weekly grocery items (for 4 weeks), and pizza (4 weeks) $48.00. That gives me an estimated total of $386.10 for the month of October for our family of four! Plus, if any of the items on my list are on sale throughout the month, it comes out to even less. Any remaining funds usually go toward restocking pantry items like flour, sugar, spices, or cooking oils.

I hope all of this information is helpful rather than totally confusing. Of course, my meal plan is mostly meat free. I guarantee you that it is possible stick to the same grocery budget even if you do include more meat. Our family did it for years prior to the last couple of months. I just reworked our monthly plan to meet our family’s current needs. I really believe that you can do the same! Happy planning!

What Running Does for Me

Our lives have been crazy busy lately. Whose hasn’t, am I right? Over the last couple months we have had school events, PTA meetings, church retreats, dance class, homework, illness, housework, and the list goes on and on and on. All leading to a general lack of time or motivation to keep up with exercise. On my drive home from work yesterday I realized how gorgeous the last evening of summer was. All I wanted was to get outside, take a break from EVERYTHING and enjoy it!

So I did. I got home. I asked hubby if he was cool with eating dinner a little bit later, which, of course, he was (that awesome man of mine). I changed out of my work clothes and into my running shorts. Side note…my dog totally knows when we are going for a run. She starts going nuts the minute I put on my work-out clothes. It’s pretty hilarious. Anyway, I grabbed my water bottle and then the dog and I headed out the door. Nothing fancy. Not enough time to drive out to a trail. It was a simple road run, but it was EXACTLY what I needed.

My runs are where I find clarity. There are days when I don’t mind the road runs because they are obviously less technical than a trail run. I don’t have to concentrate so much on where my feet are going or worry about stabbing my eye with a tree branch. It’s kind of nice because my brain can go wherever it wants to go. I can think without interruptions about whatever pops in my head. I can be angry without having to rationalize. I can feel without guilt. I can have thoughts without having to talk about them. I can have conversations with myself and work through my own mental struggles or emotional hurdles.

Those hurdles seem to show up all over the place. It’s exhausting.  Am I a good mom? Am I a loving wife? Am I a considerate daughter? Am I valued? Do I respect others? Am I teaching my children virtue? Am I helpful? Am I patient? Am I enough? I have so many questions and so many concerns reeling in my head all the time. I feel like it’s because there is so much pressure to be perfect at everything. And from who? Other moms, coworkers, church acquaintances…all people who haven’t really taken the time to get to know me. When I’m running I can let it all go. It’s just me and the dog. I don’t have to impress anyone. I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations but my own. I don’t worry about other people’s opinions of me or thoughts of who they think I am. I can just be.

Aside from the mental release, there’s something so exhilarating about running. Yes, it is hard. Yes, sometimes I can’t breathe and I need to walk for a bit so I can catch my breath. Yes, my muscles burn. Yes, I get all sweaty and stinky. Yes, it is worth it! I can’t tell you how giddy I get when I notice my own improvement. It is thrilling when I can go a longer distance or knock a few seconds off my time. It makes me want to do more. It boosts my confidence and makes me feel strong. I get to push myself and I get to see and feel real results. It’s awesome!

My runs are my time to better myself. The 30 – 40 minutes of self-indulgence is not selfishness. It’s taking care of myself. When I run I’m taking care of my body. I’m taking care of my spirit. I’m taking care of my mind. I’m allowing myself to be my own person. When I take the time to do that, it allows me to be better at all of the other things I worry I’m not good enough at.

Like I said, last night’s run was exactly what I needed. I needed to take time to reflect on everything going on right now. I needed to relieve some of the stress that has been creeping into our lives more and more. I needed to think about the grief I usually feel this time of year. I needed to be ok doing something alone since we’ve had less and less time with friends lately. I needed to remind myself how strong I am. I needed to reassure myself that I am doing ok.

Roasted Acorn Squash Salad

I think I’ve mentioned that my husband works for our church. Well, last weekend they sent him to take care of all the tech needs for our church’s women’s retreat. The bonus? I got to go with him. Plus, this year, I helped lead worship for the weekend. The women’s ministry at our church always hosts the retreat at this beautiful conference center in the mountains. We got to enjoy the changing of the leaves on our drive there and home, and I got to spend some time hiking alone (something I almost never get to do) on Saturday afternoon. Overall, it’s was a really nice weekend away for us, even if we were “working.”

The only thing that we had a little trouble with while we were there was sticking to our recent meat-free ways. Now, as I said before, my husband and I agreed that we would eat meat if it was the food being served. We absolutely had no problems putting that into practice. The food was delicious and there was a wonderful staff of youth volunteers who worked really hard to prepare and serve it to all of the women attending the retreat. The downside was the after effect. I suppose our bodies quickly adjusted to our vegetarian diet. Despite our willingness to “get what we get and not throw a fit,” I felt like I had a meat brick in my stomach by the end of the weekend.

When we got home on Sunday afternoon I still needed to run out to do the grocery shopping. I originally had a really great homemade acorn squash macaroni and cheese recipe planned for dinner that night and I already had the acorn squash. My tummy felt so heavy, though. All I was craving was a ton of vegetables! I needed to improvise how to use the acorn squash in a recipe for dinner that night so I wouldn’t have to adjust the rest of my meal plan for the week, and so the squash wouldn’t go to waste. I quickly reworked my grocery list and set off to the store.

I had a general idea of what I wanted, what my body was craving, and what the entire family could eat for dinner. Since I was improvising, I would need to wait until I got to the store to see what was in season and reasonably priced. My end result was a fantastic seasonal Roasted Acorn Squash Salad. Seriously, so satisfying.

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One of the things I was able to find was a package of mini heirloom tomatoes. These bright and colorful little beauties were perfectly ripe. I’m pretty sure my mouth was actually watering as I placed them in my shopping cart.

I decided on brussels sprouts and carrots to use in addition to the squash. These are veggies that everyone in our family likes and that taste amazing when roasted in the oven. This recipe ended up being very easy to prepare. It did require some time for the roasting of the veggies, but the combination of flavors were so good!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 small or medium acorn squash, cut into moons
  • 10 oz. shaved brussels sprouts
  • 2 – 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tsp. herbs de provence
  • 3 TB olive oil
  •  1 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • baby spinach or mixed salad greens
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • mini heirloom tomatoes, cut in halves (as many you want to use)
  • shaved almonds or chopped nuts of your choice (pecans, walnuts, etc.)
  • Trader Joe’s thyme honey balsamic vinaigrette or dressing of your choice

What to do:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375° F.
  • Combine the acorn squash, brussels sprouts, carrots, olive oil, garlic powder, herbs, and S&P in a large roasting pan.
  • Toss to coat all of the veggies with the oil and seasonings.
  • Place the pan on the bottom rack in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring the veggies and turning the squash every 10 minutes or so.
  • Meanwhile, place a bed of spinach leaves (or salad mix) on plates.
  • Sprinkle each bed of greens with goat cheese and almonds to taste.
  • Once the roasted veggies are done, pull them out of the oven, and separate the squash from the rest of the veggies.
  • Spoon the brussels sprouts and carrots over the prepared plates.
  • Add the tomato halves.
  • Place the acorn squash on top of everything.
  • Lastly, drizzle the dressing over each salad to taste.

Bon appetit!

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When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

It has been five years since I said goodbye to my father for the last time. He passed away after a short, yet torturous battle with leukemia. That year I gave birth to my daughter, and two days later my dad went into the hospital. He was there for a month before the doctors could even figure out what was wrong. By then, it was too late for the treatments to really be effective. He tried. He really fought. Ultimately, it was too aggressive to control.

I miss my dad every single day. So much. I wish he was here to see my kids grow up. I wish he could have seen the house that my husband and I finally settled into, and could have spent at least one Christmas with us here. I wish he could surprise me and take me to lunch like he used to. I wish we could still laugh together. He had an awesome laugh. I miss hearing him sing and play the guitar. I miss how he used to check in on me, but tried not to make a big deal of it. I just miss him.

Losing a parent was life-changing. Someone who was a daily part of my life for my entire life disappeared. It almost doesn’t feel real. There are still days where I will think, “I can’t wait to tell Dad about that,” and then I realize that I can’t. There are days when the sorrow is suffocating. There are days when the emptiness feels infinite. Then there are days when I am completely at peace, remembering my dad as the incredible man he was and all of the wonderful times we  had together. Time does not heal the heart. It just makes us a little more numb to the pain each day. The pain is still there though. It doesn’t go away.

I wrote the following a couple years after my dad passed away…

It was a Wednesday morning in September. I awoke to the soft, yet panicked tapping on the bedroom door as a pale light peeked in from behind the thin window curtain. My mom had come downstairs to tell me that the hospice called and said they thought my dad had a stroke during the night and that though he was still alive, he wasn’t responding or waking up. I skipped showering, threw my hair back in a ponytail, slipped on a pair of jeans and drove my mom to the hospital. 

We got to the hospice and walked into my dad’s room. He was sleeping. His mouth was open and his breathing was heavy, loud, and rhythmic. The nurse talked over his sounds, explaining that he had not woken that morning since they first checked on him. My anxious mother listened, but I stood there in a daze as I sought to truly comprehend what the nurse was trying to prepare us for.

The nurse left the room. My mom talked to my dad for a bit and then said she was going to go grab something to drink or something to eat from the cafeteria. At last. Finally for the first time during this 4-month ordeal I was alone with my father. No mom, no brother, no husband, no children. Just me and my dad. Unlike a screenplay would have it, I didn’t have any regrets or apologies and I didn’t need him to have any for me. My dad and I had a great relationship and even if we were ever in disagreement, we understood each other. I didn’t have anything to tell him other than that I loved him. So, I sang. I sang “Give Me Faith” because it was fresh in my mind, a new song recently added to our worship team’s repertoire. 

“Give me faith to trust what you say;

That you’re good and your love is great.

I’m broken inside. I give you my life.”

Thinking back upon that moment, I can’t tell you which of my fathers I was actually singing to. My dad lay there as the words squeaked out of my mouth, like I was singing them on his behalf so he would hold onto his faith as he was about to embrace eternity. Even though I was hardly audible, my soul cried out to my Father in Heaven with the plea to give me faith because I knew that soon my dad would be in His presence and no longer in mine. It was an honest and beautifully vulnerable moment and I’ll never forget it.

My dad died later that morning. My brother was in the room with him as his breathing slowed and as he was finally released from this excruciatingly horrible disease. I had gone home to grab the shower that I had skipped earlier that morning. I got the call from my brother. I remember trying to tell him that I was just going to shower really quick and then I would head straight back to the hospice and… He cut me off. He said, “Dad died,” and he began to cry as he told me the details.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I remember going back to the hospice and a lot of hugs and tears. I remember how calm everyone seemed. I think the calmness could be attributed to the fact that ultimately we all knew where Dad was and that he was no longer suffering. My dad stepped into eternity on September 14th, 2011. 

I still cannot fathom how people can do this without faith, without hope, and without belief in the one true God. Perhaps that is why death is so scary to some people and why grief has the power to numb us, paralyze us, suffocate us, and consume us. My worldly self would like to think that I go on for my husband, for my children, for my mother, and in a sense I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that God gave me the dearest people in my life for many reasons. But more so, I go on because I have hope. I’m able to let this devastating circumstance be a temporary trial rather than never ending sorrow. 

I pleaded with God that day to shield my spirit and strengthen my faith so that I wouldn’t be crushed by the pain that I knew would accompany my father’s passing. He graciously protected me that day and continues to be my rock. I have a Savior who I love and who loves me and who rejoices with me on my best days and comforts me through my worst. As I reflect on one of the most heartbreaking days of my life, I can’t help but pray for those who haven’t accepted His love.

A piece of my heart has been lost for 5 years. No more lunches, no check-ins, no visits with Grandpa. The laughter has faded. The guitar has been put away. The song is over. Those mournful days come and go. There are days when I am nothing but angry at God. I’m bitter and resentful. I think that’s an ordinary component of grief. I haven’t lost my hope though. There is peace in the midst of the pain. There is comfort found in faith.

It hasn’t changed for me.


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In loving memory of my Dad, Stephen K. Clarke

1951 – 2011

Kid Friendly Curry

My little one loves to help in the kitchen whenever I will let her. She’s not quite old enough for chopping veggies or measuring on her own, but she can peel an onion like no other and her stirring arm never gets tired. She and I recently made one of our family’s favorite dinners, Red Lentil Coconut Curry. I know. I’m super lucky because my kids are little foodies who love curry!

This recipe is a very adapted variation of a recipe I found on Epicurious, which you can see here. The very first time I made this, I followed the recipe to a T. It was really good, but it came out just a smidge too spicy for the kids. Also, when I am in a hurry to make dinner, the last thing I want to worry about is pulling every spice off the shelf and measuring all of them out. So, I have simplified this quite a bit. While I’ve been able to make it more palatable for kids, it does not skimp on flavor one bit. Quick, cheap and delicious!

The ingredients are very inexpensive and easy to find.

ingredients

I had my tiny chef start by peeling the onion. She is perfect for this job because she will not stop until every last bit of onion skin is gone.

lana-onion

Plus it keeps her occupied long enough for me to be able to chop the zucchini. I like to chop and prep everything before I start cooking so that I’m not trying to multitask too much once everything is on the heat. I’ve been known to get sidetracked and scorch a pan that way. I set aside my chopped zucchini in a bowl until I need it.

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Side note, if you’re wondering where I got my super awesome T-shirt, it’s from Camping with Dogs. I got an amazing deal when I signed up for their mailing list so it was $12 and free shipping. Anyway back to cooking…

Onions, garlic, lentils…curry paste, coconut cream, and water.

lana-stir

Finally, the zucchini…

zuccinni-pour

 

Amoma-smilefter everything is in the pot, it needs to simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes. I love it because I get some extra girl time and get to talk to one of my favorite people while we’re stirring.  It definitely makes the task of making dinner seem like less of a chore on those nights when you don’t have much time.

Normally I would serve this with brown rice, but I totally spaced starting the rice early enough for it do be done so I opted for the less healthy, but faster white rice. Hint: It’s delicious either way!

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Here’s my recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 3 TB World Foods Thai red curry paste
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked red lentils
  • 1 can coconut cream (14 oz.)
  • 14 oz. water or vegetable broth
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced

What to Do:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot.
  2. Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook another minute.
  4. Add lentils, curry powder, and curry paste and stir until fragrant.
  5. Add coconut cream, water, and zucchini. Bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

You can eat this by itself or serve it over your favorite rice. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do! What is the most exotic thing your kids like to eat?

You Are Still a Good Mom, Even on the Bad Days

After my son was born, I went back to work when he was just 2 weeks old. I didn’t want to, but my husband and I were in a place financially where I needed to. The things I struggled with then are the things I still struggle with today. Keeping up with family schedules, proving to be a dedicated employee, striving to be the perfect wife and mother, and maintaining the home is demanding. I am constantly trying to balance my career and my home life, which can be extremely stressful at times.

There are days when I feel like I have everything together. Everything goes according to plan and on schedule. If I’m being honest, those days are few and far between. A lot of the time I feel like I am totally underwater. The kids have their own agenda, running around the house like a couple wild hyenas trying to get all their crazies out before dinner. My husband has to finish a work project, which isn’t helped by the noise so generously provided by said hyenas so then he gets frustrated. Meanwhile I am trying to tame the hyenas while pacifying my stressed out hubby and making dinner simultaneously. That’s just within the first 15 minutes of being home!

It’s enough to make a mom lose her mind! Some nights, I have all the patience in the world, but other nights I snap. I get angry. I yell at my kids, who are admittedly just being kids, excited to be home at the end of the day with mom and dad. I turn a cold shoulder to my husband. Despite apologies, I feel horrible about all of it after the fact, which just makes it that much worse. Nights like this make me feel completely defeated. They make me feel like a bad mom and wife. They make me wonder what I am doing wrong.

It totally sucks because no one else talks about it either. No mom wants to tell anyone that she lost her temper and handled her anger in the wrong way. No wife wants to say that she got mad at her husband for no logical reason. Heaven forbid that we admit we were wrong and made a mistake when our emotions got the best of us. Stop the presses when we realize we are just human and no one person can really do it all. If you say you can, I kindly call bullsh*t. Yup. I said it.

Where did this idea even come from? Why do we think we can’t be honest about the daily struggles that accompany being a spouse or a parent? Is it mom-shaming? Is it ego? Is it lack of support? It feels like our society went from “It takes a village” to “I can do it myself and I can do it better than you!” What are we trying to prove? I think sometimes we can put ourselves in the “I can do it myself” mindset because we don’t want to admit that sometimes we do need help. I personally have a lot of pride about all the things I manage to juggle, and for the most part, juggle well.  Pride can be my own worst enemy though.

For example, it took a really long time for my husband and I to acknowledge that our son has ADHD. Our pediatrician just happens to specialize in neurodevelopmental disorders. He knew that, from a very young age, our son was exemplifying all of the characteristics and symptoms of an ADHD child. We, being the prideful parents we are, held off on a medical treatment plan in hopes that we could correct the problems our son was having with alternative methods. We tried things like changes to his diet, essential oils, supplements, therapy, different parenting strategies and nothing seemed to help at all.

We were pulling out our hair trying to figure out how we could have a better relationship with our child when he was literally difficult to be around. Ouch! What kind of awful parent am I to admit that?! But it was true! I love my son unconditionally but our relationship was truly strained. After exhausting all of our options, we finally agreed with the pediatrician to start a medicinal regimen. It was like sudden world peace in our home! We could have improved our entire family’s situation months in advance if our pride hadn’t gotten the best of us.

I think another thing that gets in the way of reaching out for help is the fear of judgment. Unfortunately, often times uneducated individuals can be the most judgmental. Using ADHD as an example again, anyone who has the opinion of “There ain’t no such thing as ADHD. It just bad parenting,” is obviously an idiot. Anyone who is educated and informed on the topic knows better. Don’t let someone invalidate your problem just because they know nothing about it. After all, you are reaching out for help, not to be put down.

On the other hand, if someone is reaching out to you, be mindful of how you respond. It’s easy for anyone to take a problem to the internet and try to google a solution. It takes a lot of courage to seek help from someone you know. If a person trusts you enough to come to you with their problem, listen to them. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t judge them. Assess the problem and offer your advise. Be encouraging. Be supportive. The person reaching out to you clearly admires your perspective. Be worthy of that.

To you, mom who might be reading this, don’t be discouraged. You aren’t doing anything wrong. The bad days happen. We lose our tempers. We make mistakes. It is 100% okay to admit when you are wrong. It is 100% okay to need help. It will never make you a bad mother or a bad wife to say it out loud. We are resilient. We learn. We adapt. We better ourselves.

Ways to Make Yourself Feel Better When You’re Feeling Blah

Do you ever have those days where you just feel kind of bored with the monotony of life? Like when your energy is basically non-existent and you aren’t motivated to do anything. Or when, for no particular reason, you feel frumpy and frustrated. How do you snap out of it? Whether you’re getting through a break-up, having a bad day, you’re a mom who’s been busy caring for everyone else, or you just need a pick-me-up, here’s a few of my favorite ways to fight the funk when it rears its ugly head.

nailsPaint your nails –Simple and barely costs a thing. Painting your nails is an easy way to add a little vibrancy on those days you’re feeling dull. It’s such a great way to pamper yourself. It doesn’t take up too much time and whatever fun color you pick will last a few days.

Try a face mask – Again, so easy and cheap! You can buy a one-time face mask for $1 – $8 or you can even make your own at home! Afterward your skin will be silky smooth and you can put your best face forward!

Take a bubble bath – Are you noticing a theme here? A good soak with some scented salts is a fantastic way to sooth your soul. That time in the tub gives you time to relax and reset, giving you a fresh perspective.

Wear sexy underwear – Go ahead. Giggle all you want, but I’m serious. Slipping on some silky or lacy lingerie is an instant way to boost your confidence and make yourself feel sexy. No one ever has to know. Fancy panties aren’t for anyone else but you so pick a style that makes you feel pretty and poised.

knitLearn a new skill – Sometimes when we lack motivation it’s basically because we’re bored with the things we usually do. So, teach yourself how to do something new. Thanks to Youtube and Pinterest, I have learned how to braid hair, crochet, apply make-up so I don’t look like a cross between a French whore and a clown, correct my running form, learn new songs, make flower arrangements, make my own candy, and the list goes on. You could also check out a free class at a local art store, library, or community center. When you learn something new, not only are you stimulating yourself but you’re giving yourself another life skill. Not to mention it’s a great feeling to have that “Ah-ha!” moment when everything clicks together.

Go for a hike – This one will take a little effort. Yes, you will have to put pants on. However, I can promise you that I have never gone on an outdoor adventure and wished I hadn’t. Fresh air, mild exercise, and new scenery can be just the change of pace you need to adjust your outlook on life.

Watch your favorite movie – You know that movie you could watch over and over and never get sick of? It’s time to pop it in the DVD player. My picks? When I need a good sing along/cry at the end movie I watch Moulin Rouge or West Side Story. If I need to laugh, I watch Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion or Saved. And then of course, there’s the horribly cheesy, inspirational Center Stage. Ok, so I like a lot of movies. The point is, sometimes taking that 90 minute time-out to relax and watch something you enjoy is just the reset you need to get past that pessimism.

pretty-woman-in-field-820477_640Dance it out – In the words of James Brown, “Get up offa that thing, and dance ’till you feel better!” It’s really hard to stay in a bad mood when you’re dancing. You can put on whatever kind of music you are in the mood for and just let it out. Plus, it’s really fun.

Check your diet – Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m feeling a little down I want junk food. Bring on the pizza, mac ‘n cheese, chocolate and ice cream! Honestly though, none of it is doing me any favors and usually it only makes me feel worse and even more lethargic. Perhaps it’s those poor food choices that are making us feel this way in the first place. When you feel blah, ask yourself am I getting enough vegetables? Am I eating too much sugar? Am I getting enough iron? Try a healthier choice and see if it helps boost your energy.

I know that it can be a challenge to even get out of bed on the days when you feel blah. Next time you’re having one of those days, I encourage you to try something on this list. You may surprise yourself.