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!

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!

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.

mel-chop

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!

final-pic

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.

Don’t Lose Your Spirit, Little One

My littlest started kindergarten a couple weeks ago. I was able to hold it together as my pintsized free-spirit skipped off to class in her pink princess cowgirl boots. I was a proud mom, delighted that my girl was confident enough to enthusiastically begin the school-year. It was such a happy and exciting moment for us. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “I hope she never loses that.” I hope she never loses that confidence or her enthusiasm for new experiences.

My daughter is fearless. Okay, maybe not fearless, but if there aren’t any spiders in the room, she is fearless. She has rarely ever been afraid to try something new. She will taste funny-looking foods. She will jump as high as she can on a trampoline. She will cover herself head to toe with dirt and delight in it. She will scale the side of a mountain on all fours through the tricky part of a trail. She does all of this in a way that encourages whoever is with her to be just as bold.

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Not only is she fearless, but she is strong. An eight mile hike ain’t got nothin’ on my petite beast. My husband and I used to refer to her as “Hank the Tank” because she’s so tough. If she falls, she gets right back up. If she doesn’t get something right the first time, she’ll try again. If she’s not sure about why you’re asking her to do something, she will question you. If I’m being honest, sometimes that seems like more of a curse, but trust me. It’s a blessing.

She is so compassionate too. She is always considerate of others and their feelings. She is a friend to everyone. She forgives and doesn’t hold grudges. She’s an amazing, bright sparkle of hope for a world that is growing dull and bitter.

I pray that God will guard her heart as she gets older and starts to realize how cruel people can be. I hope she never has to hear the whispers of other girls talking about her instead of to her. I hope that she never questions how beautiful she is. I hope she never values the opinion of someone else so much that it makes her deny who she is. I pray that she won’t be broken to then be remolded into an empty shell, void of the dreams and extraordinary imagination that she carries with her now.

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I think no matter how big she gets I will always see her as a bare-footed, crazy-haired blur of movement. I’ll think of her sloppy kisses and her irresistible cuddles that I know won’t always be offered. I have big hopes for this tiny soul. I hope I can encourage her, protect her, and comfort her. I hope I can build her up when she feels like others are trying to tear her down. I hope she will command respect and be respectful to others. I hope she will speak her mind. I hope she will take risks. I hope she will love. I hope she will soar.

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Rainy Days Don’t Get Me Down

It has been a rainy few days for us here in Colorado Springs. I don’t mind the rain at all. I find the soft, rhythmic pitter-patter and the low rumbling of thunder soothing. I know. I’m a total weirdo. Maybe it’s because for the majority of the year Colorado is exceedingly sunny, but I actually like when the sun hides behind the clouds. This time of year the gray sky accentuates all of the green grassy foothills, the bluish-purple mountains, the bright, fiery orange and yellow wildflowers, and the freshly capped snow-white mountain tops. The landscape’s luscious colors make me feel like I’m in a fairy tale.

The gloomy skies  can make a lot of people melancholy, but I know there are also people who share my love for rainy days. For me, rainy days relate to rest and relaxing forms of recreation. I am very partial to cozying up on the couch with a thick blanket, a book, and a cup a joe or shamelessly indulging in a Netflix binge. IMG_4822The dog really loves it too.
I love joining my kids to put together a puzzle while munching on popcorn or staring out the window to watch a raindrop race. Or who can forget the all-time favorite rainy day activity, NAPPING! Haha, just kidding. I do have kids after all.

Stormy evenings tend to stir the baker in me. I mean, sweet treats go hand in hand with that cozy blanket set up I was just talking about, right? Baking is the one area that I rarely do any kind of advanced planning for. I do this on purpose. I don’t like to have a ton of sweets on hand because I have a pretty uncontrollable sweet-tooth. If I know something is there, it is very hard for me to restrain myself. My youngest child has the same problem. So, I simply don’t keep sweets readily available all that often. However, when the mood strikes I will rummage through the pantry and see what I can whip up.

This has turned out to be a pretty effective strategy for limiting how many sugary treats we’re consuming and also for how much money I spend on sweet indulgences.  Since I use what we already have on hand, I’m not letting what’s in the pantry go to waste. I’m also not regularly spending money on specialty ingredients. I have no qualms about intentionally buying special ingredients when I need to, but if I’m simply satisfying my own craving for something sweet, I don’t feel that it’s essential.

Using what I have on hand not only supplements the savings, but it also encourages me to be creative. I get a little excited when I can take to Pinterest with the purpose of finding a new recipe to try. Sometimes I’ll even skip the search completely and just throw things together, toss it in the oven, cross my fingers and hope for the best. It usually turns out really well. Usually.

Another personal benefit to baking on a chilly, drizzly day is that the oven warms up the house and makes it smell amazing! A toasty home combined with the euphoric scent of freshly baked goodies? Yes, please! The comfort food, delicious smells, and extra snuggle time with my family, fur-baby included, make those otherwise glum days something really sweet. Those rainy days definitely don’t get me down.

What are your favorite ways to spend a rainy day without spending any money? Leave a comment to share your ideas or send a recipe!

 

 

 

Meatless Isn’t Just for Monday Anymore

At the beginning of summer I think I was actually drooling in anticipation of grilled steaks, chicken breast, pork chops and kabobs. When the weather got warmer I eagerly asked my hubby to pick up a new tank of propane. For the first few weeks of grilling season we gorged ourselves on fajitas, rib-eyes, and speared sausages with summer squash. It didn’t last long. Soon after grilling season began, it started raining everyday right around the time I was needing to cook dinner. Thus, my grill may as well have been gone. Le sigh.

One of the first nights that we got rained out, I made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner. It was fantastic! unnamedRed cabbage, bok choy, carrots, tofu, and soba noodles all tossed together in a teriyaki sauce. Not only did it taste great, but my husband and I both noticed how much more satisfied we felt after eating that type of meal. I also noticed how much my digestive system appreciated it.

Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we were only eating a slab of meat each night. I am very determined to make sure every meal is well balanced with vegetables, grains, and protein. It’s not like this was the first vegetarian meal I had ever made either. Previously, I would typically plan at least 1-2 meatless meals per week. I think what made the stir-fry stand out was that we had been overdoing it with the meat, and my body responded with relief when I finally fed it a bowl full of plant-based bliss.

It was enough to get me thinking. When I also considered how much the price of meat had gone up just over the last year it sparked a conversation. Hubby and I talked about it and we decided that neither of us would be opposed to trying out a mostly vegetarian diet for a while. We agreed that seafood was still ok. So I guess that’s technically “Pescetarian,” but we also agreed that we wouldn’t refuse meat if it was served at a gathering, or if meat was the only available option while eating out. That’s why I say “mostly” vegetarian.

It’s been about 2 months now since we’ve made this change. I have to say that I do not miss the meat at all! We have had the occasional pepperoni on a pizza here and there, but our weeknight dinners and homemade lunches have all been meatless. The kids are enjoying it too! They have been cleaning their plates and asking for more. Perhaps a little TMI for you, but we’ve all been less gassy. I’ve even been able to lose at least 3 pounds in that short amount of time just from eliminating meat. It’s definitely been a positive change for our family.

I’ve really stayed away from buying pre-made meat substitutes. Instead I’ve opted for various types of beans, lentils, eggs, cheese, and tofu. Go easy on the tofu though…too much soy can mess with your hormones. I’ll direct you here so I don’t go off topic. I’ve also been surprised to learn how much protein is already in a lot of the grains and veggies we love. They key is planning. It has helped tremendously to keep me on track and to make sure our family is getting the right nutrition. When I sit down and make a menu plan I can see each ingredient that will go into a particular meal which allows me to determine if I need to supplement it with anything.

Our bellies and our bank account have been much happier with the switch. So far we have saved about $100 on our monthly grocery bill! I’m sure as the weather starts to get colder we’ll be craving comfort foods like chicken ‘n dumplings and beef stew. I’ll probably work those family favorites into our menu in moderation, but I know I will continue to plan meatless meals for most dinners going forward.

Feels Like Fall

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It’s that magical time of year when there’s a chill in the morning air. Pikes Peak already got its first dusting of snow. The aspens in my yard are starting to yellow. The sun tucks itself in for the night a little earlier each day. Soon we’ll enjoy pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING accompanied by the sweet aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. We’ll bust out the comfy boots and cozy sweaters. I’ll be putting the crockpot to use in as many ways possible.

It’s also the time of year that the kids have just returned to school. That means new, unfamiliar germs are invading our home with even more vigor than the spiders who try to do the same when harvest season hits. I am the germs’ latest victim. I’m not quite sure what I’m fighting, but whatever it is hates my stomach. That said, I stayed home from work yesterday and today so my body can rest and recover from having the life force drained out of it.

I don’t know about you, but when I am home for too long and don’t have the energy to do anything, I tend to analyze my life. I think about work, my family, my faith, all of the to-dos around the house, you name it! As I evaluate each aspect of my life I realize that I really have nothing to complain about. Honestly though, I still have moods and feelings of inadequacy. I have desires for more whether it be more time with my husband and kids, more strength in my friendships or faith, more money (hey, I’m being honest here). I think most people have ambitions that haven’t come to fruition just yet. I can’t be the only one.
So, in this brief time that I have been home, feeling kinda blah and thinking about all this, I’ve realized what is missing the most in my life right now more than anything else is a release for my creative energy. I’ve always been a bohemian at heart. I love to dance. I love to sing. I love to write. I’m weird and quirky, and I love people even if I don’t always want to be around them. I’m a free-spirit who has become tethered down by practicality and responsibility. It’s not a bad thing at all. I’m a mom, and a wife, and a hard-worker. Sacrifices come with the territory.
As we welcome the fall, I’m entering my own season in life where I need to reclaim my creativity. I need to express who I actually am. I need to allow myself to feel my way through my emotions instead of burying them underneath a facade that tells everyone else I’ve got it all figured out. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be passionate. I need to laugh and cry. I need to fall down and get back up again. I need to make mistakes. I need to learn and I need to grow. I need to take chances and I need to challenge myself.
So, how am I going to do it? Well, I recently started taking a contemporary dance class. I am LOVING it so far! I probably look like a complete goof trying to get my body to do what it used to do over a decade and two kids ago, but it is absolutely exhilarating. The other thing I would like to recommit myself to is my writing. My husband always jokes that I don’t talk all that much, but I have so many ideas swirling around in my head. Writing is my outlet and the easiest way for me to write consistently is to blog. Get ready folks! I’ve got a lot to share.