Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How I Shop and Plan Meals for a Whole Month


I dread grocery shopping. I mean, if I could pay someone else to do it for me, I probably would. (Any volunteers?) Seriously though, I decided a year ago that I was DONE with weekly shopping trips. Gone are the days of spending a whole morning every week pushing around a cart full of groceries and squirmy, fussy babies. No more ruined nap times and spending hours loading everything into the cart, then onto the checkout stand, then back into the cart, then into the van, then into my house, and then finally putting it all away, all while my kids scream for food and tear into anything they can get their hands on.

Now I do all of my shopping and meal planning for the whole month at once, and it has changed my life.

True, I still dread that one shopping trip, and it's still a huge pain, but I can usually get it done when Ben's home so I don't have to take the kids. And the best part is, of course, I only have to do it once a month! It's honestly a huge load off my shoulders not to have to plan a weekly shopping trip anymore. Even when I do have to run to the store on the corner, it's usually just to pick up more milk or a few things I missed, so it's a much quicker trip. (Plus my corner store has a play area for the kids, so sometimes I go just to let them play...while I sniff all the candle scents and lotions. 😉)

When I posted about my monthly shopping trip to Costco the other day on my Instagram, a lot of people were curious about it. So to answer your questions, here's how it works for us, plus what I like and don't like about it.

But first, I asked my friend Stephanie, who also shops once a month, to share how it works for her. She gives a great run-down:

Basically, I sit down on the last weekend of the month and write down what we're having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do the same thing each week for breakfasts and lunches, so every Monday we'll have cereal for breakfast and tuna sandwiches for lunch, but I switch it up each month. Then I decide what we'll have for dinner each night. I try to see what I already have in the fridge and pantry for meals before planning new things I need groceries for. It was hard the first couple months, but after a while, planning that many meals got easier. 
I use frozen veggies at the end of the month and fresh stuff at the beginning. Also, I freeze our bread so it will last the whole month. Milk can be frozen, but I'm not really a fan of how it thaws out, so I actually get milk and eggs from our local grocery store. I started shopping once a month because we live 32 miles from a town with a Walmart and 63 miles from a bigger city with a Sam's Club. I hated dragging the kids that far twice a month--it always ended up being a long day, and the kids and I were always cranky! I just didn't want to go through that more than once a month. Plus, I always ended up forgetting something because I didn't have our meals planned. I would either have to drive 32 miles, or pick something up at the local grocery store, which is always more expensive than Walmart. So I was spending way too much every month and wasting a lot of gas. 
I love going only once a month, and I never forget anything because it's all planned out and I know exactly what I need.

 Amen, Stephanie! So, here's what my monthly meal plan looks like.


As you can see, it's pretty rough. I just jot it all down right in my planner, and like my friend Stephanie, I start with what I already have on hand--here, I wrote down a few things that needed to be used up in the top left corner. I picked what to make each night from a mental list of our favorite meals, and I wrote in a few new meals to try, too. We'll have fresher meals--lettuce wraps and fajitas--within a week or two of shopping, and meals like soups, stir-fry and paninis later on. I made sure to plan easy meals for busy nights, too.

I don't plan out breakfast or lunch, but I'm thinking of trying it out with this awesome re-usable printable from Melissa at Bless This Mess next month. (She has a great post on monthly meal-planning here.)

To sum it up, here are a few pros and cons to consider if you're thinking of trying a monthly approach to meal-planning and shopping. And if you keep scrolling down, I listed what I buy from Costco on a regular basis, just in case you're interested. Happy shopping!

PROS:
  • I only have to do a big shopping trip once a month instead of once a week.
  • I get to shop at Costco! (The samples, the food court, the gadgets...it's just more fun than the average grocery store!)
  • If I really don't want to make an extra trip to the store for whatever else I need, I can use Walmart free pick-up.
  • Ben can also stop by the store on his way home, again saving me an extra trip to the store with kids in tow.
  • When I do shop at the corner store, it's much quicker.
  • I have a whole month to make sure everything gets used up, instead of buying new stuff when old stuff is still sitting around.
  • It forces me to make do with what I have until the next shopping trip, saving me money.
  • I know exactly what I need to buy when I go shopping, so I don't buy extra stuff I don't need, again saving me money. (I know I'll get this question, so to be straight with you, I shoot to spend under $300 at Costco every month and $100 elsewhere, so that's a monthly budget of $400 for groceries and non-food household items like paper towels and diapers.)
  • With a whole month of meals planned out, I'm not always wondering at 4:30 what I'm going to make for dinner.
  • If I don't want to make whatever I have planned for that night, I can just switch it out with something else from another night, because I know I already have whatever I need on hand.
  • Buying in bulk at Costco means I don't run out of things as quickly--a lot of pantry last month to month, and quite a few items freeze well, too.
  • Produce from Costco comes in large amounts too, so we eat LOTS of fresh fruits and veggies while they last.

CONS:
  • It took some time to get used to planning our meals for a whole month, and it does take some work. I didn't even attempt it when I dealing with "morning" sickness this fall--we survived on grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes and breakfast cereal. 
  • Costco doesn't carry everything, and some things we prefer to buy in smaller quantities, so I do still have to make an extra shopping trip for those items.
  • Not everything lasts all month (milk, produce), so I either have to run to the store to restock or make do without. 
  • I have to store a lot of food. Before I had spare fridge/freezer in the garage, I was always short on space for frozen items, milk and produce. And without my decent-size pantry, I'd probably be stashing stuff in closets and under beds. 
  • Since we buy a lot of produce at Costco, it can be hard make sure all of it gets used up or frozen before it goes bad.
  • Like my friend Stephanie mentioned, we eat really fresh at the beginning, but we have to get by on canned or frozen fruits and veggies later on.



WHAT I BUY AT COSTCO:
Starred items (*) I buy pretty much every month. Everything else I buy as needed. I listed the brand for items I'm particular about.

Produce
Apples*
Oranges*
Bananas*
Tomatoes*
Cucumbers*
Bell Peppers*
Lettuce*
Grapes/Strawberries/Blueberries/Raspberries (at least one of these, depending on the price)*
Carrots
Mushrooms
Potatoes

Meat
Kirkland Frozen Chicken Tenderloins*
Kirkland Organic Ground Beef
Pork Chops/Pork Loin
Bacon (freeze)
Sliced Ham or Turkey (freeze)
Kirkland All-Beef Hot Dogs (freeze)
Adelle's Sausage (freeze)

Dairy/Juice
Milk*
Orange Juice*
Eggs*
Sour Cream*
Cheese Sticks*
Tillamook Cheddar Block (I cut it into thirds and freeze)
Tillamook Shredded Cheddar (freeze)
Kirkland Shredded Mexican Cheese (freeze)
Butter (freeze)
Half and Half
Cottage Cheese
Feta Cheese
Yogurt
Cranberry/Grape Juice

Frozen
Frozen Tortellini*
Frozen Peas
Frozen Corn
Frozen Broccoli

Bread
Tortillas (freeze)*
English muffins (freeze)

Canned/Pantry Items
Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese*
Granola Bars
Cheerios
Granola
Apple Sauce
Craisins
Sliced Almonds
Bacon Bits
Annie's Organic Snack Packs
Fruit Squeeze Packs
Fruit Snacks
Canned Black Beans
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned Tomato Paste
Canned Pineapple
Chicken Broth
Prego Sauce
Salsa

Baking/Condiments/Spices
Flour
Sugar
Brown Sugar
Rice
Olive Oil
Canola Oil
Vinegar
Vanilla
Cinnamon
Garlic Powder
Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix
Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
Soy Sauce

Non-Food Grocery Items
Vitamins
Toilet Paper
Facial Tissue
Paper Towels
Aluminum Foil
Tide Laundry Detergent
Clorox 2 Stain Remover
Garbage Bags



WHAT I BUY ELSEWHERE:
Some of these items I could get at Costco, but I prefer to buy them in smaller quantities or from a different brand than what Costco offers. Other items I just can't get at Costco.

Bread
Pasta
Tortilla Chips
Pretzels
Popcorn
Avocados
Green Onions
Cabbage
Spinach
Sweet Potatoes
Seasonal fruit
Sauces and condiments (mayo, mustard, etc.)
Baking ingredients and spices
Freezer/sandwich bags
Muffin liners
Diapers/Wipes
Hair/Hygiene Products
Cleaning Products

P.S. Jordan at Fun Cheap or Free also has a great post on making the most of your Costco membership. It's worth checking out!

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Life is a Miracle


Earlier today I deleted a comment on one of my Instagram posts where I spoke up for the right of unborn children to live. The commenter said something like, "I doubt a 12-year-old rape victim would have the same attitude." I blocked him (which automatically deleted his comment), not because he disagreed with me, but because his own feed was full of vulgar images of women (I know, ironic), and honestly I don't want someone like that following me.

It can be a little scary sometimes to put myself out there like this, but I'm still speaking up. I don't want to attack or argue with or shame anyone--quite the opposite, in fact. But I'm tired of being told I'm hateful and intolerant for opposing abortion, and I think understanding each other is the only way that people who disagree can get to any sort of common ground. 

But back to that comment first: I could say to myself, "It doesn't matter what he thinks." But it does, because a LOT of people think the same thing. And he's right, I doubt a 12-year-old rape victim would agree that her baby is a miracle. I'm not sticking my head in the sand, here. Several years ago, I worked as the spokesperson at a hospital where a 9-year-old girl gave birth to her mom's boyfriend's baby. NINE YEARS OLD. She was raped, of course. I was the one who had to tell every major news network to back off because being on TV was the last thing she and her baby needed.

No 9-year-old girl should EVER have to go through what she went through. I still think about her often and wonder what happened to her and her baby. I know the baby was placed in foster care, and I can only hope that he or she had good foster parents. As flawed as the system is, I also know so many foster parents who are absolute angels from God Himself. If anyone deserves foster parents like that, it's that baby. So do I still believe that baby is a miracle and a child of God, deserving of life and love? Absolutely. But should that little girl have had to carry that baby? Absolutely not.

And now back to finding that common ground: I can get behind the law that allows rape victims, especially little girls, to have early-term abortions. I can also get behind the law that allows women whose lives are at risk to have early-term abortions. But this doesn't seem to be what the pro-choice movement is fighting for, in spite of the comments like the one I had to delete today. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems it has to be all or nothing: free birth control for everyone, free abortions for everyone, late-term abortions with no questions asked. Morally, I just can't get behind all that. (And as I touched on in my recent blog post, it's certainly not the responsibility of the federal government to pay for it--constitutionally, it's up to individuals or state governments.)

Life is complicated and often tragic, yes, but the answer is not for women to accept the killing of their unborn children. In my view, that can only do harm. What is the answer? That's a much harder question, and that's why it's so important for us to start finding some common ground. But I truly believe that every person has value, including unborn children. Everyone has a right to live, to think and believe and choose as they will. And that includes you, too.

YOU are alive. You have a right to live. To think. To believe. To choose.

I, for myself, choose life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When Your Employee Miscarries

This article was originally published at 9 Virtues Blog, the official blog of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders: Unlocking Your Leadership Potential by Karl Haden and Rob Jenkins--the latter being my dad, who asked me to write about my experience with miscarriage from a professional standpoint. I'll admit to being slightly biased, but this book is truly and honestly THE best thing I've read on developing real leadership skills (and I read quite a few in the years I worked), and it's available for purchase or download on Amazon.


I've had 3 miscarriages. Each one was a different experience, not just because of what I went through personally, but also because of how each miscarriage was handled in the workplace. What I learned was that when it comes to miscarriage, people rarely know how to react, including bosses and coworkers, but sometimes even the woman herself. Is it a health problem? Is it a death? Should it be talked about, or kept private? Should people offer formal condolences with cards and flowers? How much time off should a woman have to recover and grieve?

Not many companies have policies on what to do when a woman has a miscarriage, and most bosses probably don't even think about how to handle it until it happens to one of their employees. Most bosses certainly want to do the right thing, but they might not know what that is. With so many valuable women in the workplace, it's time to set some guidelines. As a boss, what should you do when one of your employees has a miscarriage?

First, it's important to understand some of what a woman goes through when she miscarries. If you've never been through one yourself, you might not realize how physically painful and emotional traumatic it can be. Many woman who miscarry are prescribed pain medications, and the process of miscarrying can take days, even weeks. Heavy bleeding will likely leave her feeling drained for several days afterward. And if she experiences any complications, she might require hospitalization, a blood transfusion or surgery.

Many women also grieve a miscarriage as they would the loss of a child or family member. Have you ever been an excited, expectant parent? The sadness of losing a baby, even early in pregnancy, is at least equal to the excitement of expecting one. A woman may not know how to cope, because what she goes through physically is similar to the birth of a child, but emotionally, it's like losing a loved one. And that makes it difficult for other people to know how to respond, too.

As a leader, you have the opportunity to help make a negative experience into a positive one. When your employee learns that she's having a miscarriage, she probably won't know how much time off she'll need. She might not even tell you until it becomes impossible for her to work or until her surgery (D and C, or dilation and curettage) is scheduled. When she does come to you, she might not be herself; she might even be in shock. You can respond to her loss with compassion and help set expectations for the days and weeks to follow.

Here are four basic guidelines to follow when your employee miscarries:

1. First, say "I'm sorry." Showing sincere sympathy is first and foremost in this situation, and it will help her know that you support her at this difficult time. It's very common for a woman who miscarries to feel that she's somehow failed her baby and her family, and she might worry that she's letting her work family down, too. If she apologizes for missing work or handing over her responsibilities, you can reassure her that you and the team will do whatever you can to help her. Sending a card or flowers might be appropriate if that's your company's custom when a team member loses a loved one.

2. Be generous and flexible. Think of the allowances we make in the workplace when a woman delivers a baby or again, when a team member loses a loved one. Remember, a miscarriage is similar to both. Getting back to work in a day or two is probably not realistic, so be as generous as you can in giving her time off. First, give her a day or two to get back to you, and then you can go from there. Assure her that you can be flexible, and then make good on that promise if she has unexpected complications and needs more time. When I had my third miscarriage, I experienced some complications that took a few weeks to resolve and involved regular hospital visits. Obviously, I didn't plan for that, but I didn't feel comfortable asking for additional time off either. My work was affected, and everyone ended up frustrated, especially me. This could've been solved by taking half-days in the office or working from home. Remaining flexible with her time off and work responsibilities is key when an employee miscarries, especially when it takes longer than expected.

3. Show respect for her privacy. Ask her if she'd like you to share her difficult news with the rest of the team on her behalf. If she'd prefer to keep it private for now, simply tell others that she's not feeling well, and then handle delegating her work as if she were sick at home with the flu. Unless you have her permission to tell the team about her miscarriage, avoid saying things like, "She's had some unexpected health concerns," or "She's in the hospital, but she's going to be okay." This only will only make everyone feel uncertain, and they might try to contact her to see what's going on. Let her decide how and when to share what she's going through. If she doesn't want anyone to know at all, you can thoughtfully suggest telling one other person she works with closely, so that she can ask for extra support if she needs.

4. Avoid making demands. Right away, you'll want to ask, "When will you be back to work?" or "What about such-and-such project?" Don't. Instead say, "Let me know in a day or two how you're feeling, and we'll figure out your time off." If you don't already know, ask her who she thinks would be the best person to take over her responsibilities or certain projects until she's back at work. Better yet, if it's not urgent, just say, "Don't worry about work here. We'll take care of it." Also, avoid demanding that everyone know about her miscarriage, or that no one know and it be kept just between you and her. (See above on respecting her privacy.) The first time I miscarried, I came to the office the next day and tried to work normally. When my boss found out, she insisted I go home; I was surprised but extremely grateful. The only demand to make when your employee miscarries is that she take the time she needs to recover.

As a boss, you can show compassion and support for her, take the lead without making demands, and be generous and flexible with her schedule. It's not only in her interest, but in yours and the team's, as well. With time to recover, she'll be able to return to work more quickly. And when you and the team pull together to help her through this difficult time, it will boost everyone's morale in spite of the sadness of her loss. Above all, you can help set a positive precedent for how miscarriages are handled in your workplace, and ultimately how all women at work should be treated.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

So You're Mad About Trump? Well, I'm Mad Too.


This is not the blog post I'd planned to write. It's not even the one I wanted to write. Ever. But here I am writing this at 1 in the morning, because I can't stop the words from coming.

You see, I'm not exactly thrilled to have Trump for President...and I voted for him. I know, I know--now you hate me. He's obnoxious and repulsive; America deserves better, I agree. But that's not why I'm mad. 

I'm mad that half of Americans are being called racist, hateful, stupid, ignorant, intolerant and worse for voting for Trump--plenty of people like me, who are most certainly not racist, hateful, stupid, ignorant, or intolerant (or uneducated, for that matter--I'm a college grad with honors, plus almost 10 years career experience). In fact, many--if not most--of those people are pretty great parents, friends, employees and citizens, who genuinely care about others and their communities. 

I'm mad that the media and so many Americans are buying into this idea that Trump supporters are bad people who are hurting women and minorities (funny how I'm one of those)--that they are not just people to be hated, but people that America must put an end to. That these are the people who are standing in the way of everything good and right. 

Only, that depends on your point of view. And America has this thing with protecting different points of view, or at least it used to. Trust me, I'm all for more affordable healthcare and housing and education. I'm no racist, and I believe all people--no matter their race or gender--should be treated fairly and equally. I do my best to live that belief every day, and to treat others with kindness and compassion. If you know me, I hope you'd agree. 

I also believe in the Constitution, and that it limits federal powers to protect its people and our rights. I don't believe the federal government should be allowed to administer healthcare, housing or education--the states, yes. The Constitution clearly allows for that, even encourages it, favoring state powers over federal powers. That's why we are the United States of America, after all. So no, I don't support federalized welfare (there are other types, you know). And another thing: I don't believe that women's rights should include abortion. As a mother and a Christian, I believe the lives of unborn children should be protected, especially from partial-birth abortion, which I'm sad to think must be a painful death.

These are just a few reasons I chose not to vote for Hilary. I also believe she's dishonest. (Sorry, not sorry.) To me, the fact that half of Americans voted for Trump says more about Hilary than it does voters--not that they're racist or hateful (etc., etc.), or that they agreed with everything Trump said, but that they just didn't trust Hilary. They felt like she was hiding the truth behind that calm facade. Say what you like about Trump--I might even agree--but the thing about him is that what you see is what you get.

Not that I'm happy about what we're getting, but I'm not writing this to argue Trump vs. Hilary--if you ask me, they're both pretty lousy. As it happens, I believe both parties have a lot of the same goals, just very different views on how to achieve them. Ultimately, I'm trusting God and the Constitution to pull America through whatever comes our way. And I'm going to keep making the best of my life and helping whoever I can, no matter who's president.

The point is, it's dangerous to label so many Americans as bad people for voting for Trump. People's actions are what cause harm to others, not personal views--even the ones you abhor. Those views are protected by the Constitution, and so are yours. There are bad people out there, who actually want to cause others harm, and they're not exclusive to one party. 

Half the country are not those people. I am not that person. I am an American who exercised my right to vote. And if you voted for Hilary or someone else, you did the same. I don't believe that makes you a bad person. I don't want to stop you from protesting peacefully or sharing your point of view. I would appreciate the rest of America doing the same for me, instead of accusing all Trump voters of hurting women and minorities. It seems to me, that's doing more harm than good.

***

P.S. If you're still asking yourself why any sane person would vote for Trump, read this article by a (totally sane) Christian woman, who says it much better than I can.

P.S.S. I would love comments! But I'm a busy mom and I'm not here to argue or referee, so please be respectful.

P.S.S.S. If you want to do something, but you're not sure what, here are some causes I support that you could get involved in, too--this anti-sex-trafficking organization, this organization that collects kits for refugees and people in disaster areas, and this church (my church, actually) that coordinates all kinds of relief efforts locally and worldwide. Their websites offer so many ideas and ways you can help. This blogger shared some really great ideas, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why This Was the Best Christmas Ever (+ 3 Ways to Make This the Best Year Ever)


Can we all agree that January is the most un-magical time of the year? Seriously, being snowed-in for a week in January is just not as fun as being snowed-in at Christmas. Tuesday was a new low for me--I hadn't left the house in days. I hadn't showered or shaved for days either, I was trying to get all my Christmas decorations packed away while my kids were climbing in boxes and scattering ornaments all over the room, and then I found out that the fridge I'd been waiting on for over a month was not going to arrive that day after all because of--you guessed it--this blasted weather.  

I called my husband at work just to cry. I'd tried so hard to be patient--other people had much bigger problems than having to walk into a freezing-cold garage 20 times a day to get the milk. Heck, I'd had bigger problems than that before too, plus it was the holidays--I wasn't going to let not having a fridge in my kitchen ruin it. But I just couldn't keep it together anymore. I was ready to throw the pity party of the year.

Well, if you saw my post on Instagram earlier, you know that Ben saved the day and brought home pizza for dinner. But I started thinking about this Christmas, and how happy and relaxed I felt. What was it about this Christmas that made it one of the best I've ever had? I couldn't quite put my finger on it. For some reason, I didn't get as stressed out this year, and the little things my kids do every day that usually drive me crazy just didn't. Instead, the whole month felt magical. It was the happiest I'd felt in a while. 

And the biggest thing I noticed was that I felt closer to Christ than I had in a long time. I was thinking about Him all the time and feeling so grateful for His love. I came to understand the depth of that love in a whole new way when our church youth hosted a "Journey Through Christ's Life" the week before Christmas. As we walked through our church building in silence, we watched the events of His life through video clips (including the one below) and actors playing people who knew Him (our youth leaders). Prophecies of His birth, the nativity, His teachings, His miracles, and finally His excruciating death and miraculous resurrection--all through it, I reached out to Him in my heart as I'd never done before, or at least not for a long time.


There are really no words to describe what I felt as I watched a depiction of His death on the cross, other than overwhelming awe for Him and His love for me. And that feeling turned to pure joy and peace, which was so beyond all the happiness that carols and lights and Christmas trees bring. Still, it seemed to make every Christmas moment even more magical in the week following.  

So I don't think it's because I somehow had less going on this Christmas that I felt more peaceful. I was busy with all the usual parties and gift-giving, plus taking care of my kids (which never fails to keep me busy all year long), playing Santa, decorating my house inside and out, and getting involved in Light the World 25 Days of Service. I think it was because all of those things kept me more focused on Christ and other people than on myself.

One moment I'll never forget was my 3-year-old son gently placing the coolest construction toy he'd ever seen into the donation bin for Toys for Tots. He picked it out himself, as part of a new Christmas tradition we started this year, and just as I predicted, he was thrilled because he thought he was picking it out for himself at first. But as we paid for it and explained again that we were going to give it to a little boy who needed it more, he looked torn. We could see his little wheels turning, "Okay, they want me to put it in the bin...I'll just put it in and take it out again, no big deal." When he realized that he had to put the toy in the bin and leave it there, it clearly took all the will-power and compassion his little toddler heart could muster. It was a true sacrifice for him.


To me, that's what Christmas is all about--putting others before yourself. When I spend the whole season just thinking about how busy and stressed I am, I'm only thinking about myself and missing out on the real peace and joy that Christmas is meant to bring--that Christ brought. And that's true for the rest of the year, too. As one blogger put it, "You have 11 more months to come closer to Christ." (Anyone know who? I saw this a while ago and can't find it now, but I'd love to credit her!)

So for 2017, that's my resolution: to focus on what I'm grateful for and think more about Christ and others than I think about myself. Here are 3 ways I plan to do that.

3 Ways to Feel the Peace, Joy and Hope of Christmas All Year:

1.) When I start feeling stressed, stop and think how blessed I am. I know this might sound silly, but it really works for me! It's human nature to worry about whatever isn't going right at the moment and how to fix it, but that can really wear us down. God knows this, so He asks us to trust Him, and simply pausing to recognize His hand in our lives can bring us so much peace, joy and hope.


2.)  Spend time every day thinking about Christ and feeling grateful for His sacrifice. Like many of you, I pray. I read the scriptures. I try to listen to what God's teaching me. But I don't always take the time simply to be still and feel His love. I learned this Christmas that reflecting daily on my Savior and all He's done goes a long way toward bringing me closer to Him and filling my life with peace.

3.) Find ways to sacrifice for other people, especially the people I love. I think this is the hardest one. It's so easy to get wrapped up in my own life or to feel weighed down by the constant demands of my family. But when I try to think of what I do for them as a gift instead of a burden, I start to find real joy. The same goes for other people--being more willing to give up my time and give from my heart, the way I do at Christmas, is something I've been missing. It's a chance for me to be a better friend and feel that joy and spirit of giving all year. 

What do you do to keep that Christmas spirit after all the decorations are packed away and the lights come down?

P.S. Here are also a few practical tips I shared last January that helped me get ready for Christmas this year, as far as budget and planning. I definitely think they played a part in making this a great Christmas, so I recommend checking it out! 

P.S.S. This is the time of year that SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and depression are common. I know I've struggled with this before, so if you find yourself in that situation, here's some great advice from a fellow blogger Abbie. The way she described coming alive again when the weather warms up, I totally related. Hang in there with me until spring, friend!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Warmest Wishes in 2017


It feels like it's been a busy year, but I was reading our New Year's update from last year, and I could just copy and paste about half of it. So I hope you're not completely bored reading this. I guess not much has changed in the last year in our day-to-day lives. One day tends to blend into the next, but as monotonous and exhausting as life can feel sometimes with 2 small kids (feed kids, wipe bums, do laundry, repeat...), our life is beautifully simple. It's what we waited and worked for for so long. We do have some big news, though: we're expecting another baby at the end of May!...Most of us are excited about it.

Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

Ben has been working for almost a year as the manager at an infusion home care pharmacy (i.e. he runs a pharmacy that makes IVs for people who need private nursing care). He's held quite a few different jobs over the last few years--long story short: he started out part-time, switched to a full-time job, got laid-off, found a new part-time job, then a new full-time job, and then his company was bought out in February. Whew! It's been a roller coaster. 

But fortunately, this is looking permanent, and we're extremely grateful, even when it keeps him busy on nights and weekends. He loves the work that he does, and apparently he's made himself indispensable (#jobsecurity). He also volunteers some of his extra time as an assistant clerk at our church, helping with paperwork and records. Not to mention, he's the most loving husband and dad anyone could ask for. I mean, I knew he was amazing when I married him, but he's really blown me away the last year or so. He's our rock and our best friend, and I could go on, but you'd probably stop reading. 

Jenny (that's me!) I feel pretty lucky to stay at home with our 2 kids, Caleb and Lydia. Honestly, it's been a long year--our first few months with Lydia were a dream, and then suddenly, about a year ago, having two kids got really hard. It's a pretty big job keeping up with two busy toddlers in diapers, but there's no other job I'd rather wake up for every single morning. I'm sure with 3 I'll get the hang of this, right?! (Riiiight.) 

As busy as they keep me, I tried my hand at gardening for the first time, I managed to update our kitchen with some fresh paint on the walls, cabinets, and countertops (more on that on the blog soon), and I finished my first triathlon in April. Another highlight was going to Girls Camp with the young women from my church this summer. Spending a week surrounded by God's beautiful creations and these beautiful girls that I love was so good for my soul.


Caleb, who turned 3 in November, seems to be getting smarter all the time. He loves to talk, and he tells the wittiest jokes. Like, way better jokes than I could ever come up with! (e.g. He came up to me holding a package and said in a menacing voice, "Hi there, I'm the one who rang the doorbell when your baby was sleeping.") The funny gene in my family must've skipped a generation. 

He's the sweetest big brother, the best helper, an eager learner and reader, and he constantly amazes me with his grasp of the gospel and life in general. I love that he's a good listener, but he's also an independent thinker, so he asks questions and tries to understand things for himself. Besides Ben, he's one of my favorite people to talk to. His enthusiasm for all things with engines--especially construction vehicles--is as strong as ever, and his heart's deepest desire is to drive a digger one day.

Photo Credit: Emily Walker

Lydia turned 1 in July, and she is our wild girl and ray of sunshine. She climbs everything, and I pick her up off the kitchen table, bathroom counter, the top of the toilet, clothes dryer--you name it--about 50 times a day, no exaggeration. Nothing deters her: falling on her head (happens all the time), time out (once an hour, at least), scolding (she just laughs). She is irrepressible, as my dad likes to say. Which is totally unlike me, so I'm equally in awe and full of admiration for that. But it's also terrifying. 

She makes up for it with plenty of sweet kisses and hugs, and her little giggle and soft kissable cheeks always give me a thrill of joy. Like her brother, she also loves to talk (and sing!), but most of the time we have no idea what she's saying. It's becoming more discernible every day, though.

Photo Credit: Emily Walker

A few other highlights for our family this year were: visiting my family and grandparents in Georgia in March. My kids loved the farm as much as I do, of course. It always feels so good to "go home," and it already feels like forever ago. I felt more than a little sentimental and dreamy looking back on these photos.
  




Ben's family reunion is something we look forward to every year, and it didn't disappoint. We've always loved the campground there with its aspen-lined hiking trails and swimming hole, and it's fun now to take our kids camping there with their cousins every summer.




We also had my best friend Jen, who I hadn't seen in over 3 years, come visit us for a few weeks in June. Having her here was just what I needed, and her daughter is Caleb's age, so they totally hit it off, too. Caleb still talks about his friend Paisley all the time.


At Thousand Springs

My parents came to visit in July for Lydia's 1st birthday and my *ahem* birthday, and my mom helped kick-start my kitchen update. (She also helped wrap it up 4 months later when she came to visit for Thanksgiving...lol!) We had a fun time partying, and I got all spontaneous and decided we should float the Boise River together, which was a blast except we started too late and almost froze to death. (Note to self: spontaneity is not your thing.)



Then we partied some more with Ben's parents for his birthday, and I finally got to see "my lake"--Jenny Lake in Wyoming. It was incredible. Seriously, there are no words to describe how beautiful and inspiring it is.






We got to see Ben's parents a few weeks later at our house--it was such a sweet surprise and my mother-in-law helped a lot with my kitchen update--and then again on our visit to Utah in September. My kids had a blast with their cousins too, and we got to see my brother Michael for the first time since he got back from his mission in France.


Hiking "The Grotto" Trail

At my cousin Cloe's reception

Later that month, we found out we were expecting Baby #3! And then the "morning" sickness hit, so I spent the next 2 months on the couch, and not much else happened for a while (including dinner, laundry, and dishes).


At 16 Weeks

By November, I was feeling a lot better. We celebrated Caleb's 3rd birthday with Ben's parents, and they kept the kids for a few days while we went to Chicago on a business trip. Ben worked most of the time, but it was a fun little vacation. We got to see some good friends from college: Kristen and Bobby downtown, and Karen and Roger in the suburbs. I immensely enjoyed sleeping in, showering, and eating a big, hot breakfast every morning.



For Thanksgiving my whole family--my mom, dad, 3 brothers, and sister-law--all came to visit. We had our own little "Christmas morning" together with the kids, and relaxed and ate a ton of food, of course.


Photo Credit: Busy Bee Photography

This Christmas, we were on our own, but it was one of the most peaceful and joyful Christmas seasons I've had in a while. I loved our church's Light the World 25 Days of Service, and it really made our season special to focus on Christ and lifting the people around us, as He did. Maybe it was because we weren't traveling or having visitors, but it just didn't feel as stressful as usual. It was just magical.

I'm hoping that will launch us into a joyful new year, one in which I plan to focus more on everything I'm grateful for, and obviously that's a lot. God bless all of you, and warmest wishes from our family to yours in 2017!


Photo Credit: Emily Walker

P.S. In case you're interested, you can always catch our day-to-day happenings on my Instagram and keep up with our blog on Facebook

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Two Words


Thrilled. And Terrified. Why keep writing? 😅

Well, here we go again...Baby #3 arrives in May! Obviously, I'm thrilled! It's amazing that after trying to start a family for over 5 years with no success, we'll now have 3 kids 3 and under. No, amazing is an understatement. It blows my mind! God is seriously making up for lost time.

And I'm terrified, because you can't go through 3 miscarriages without becoming paranoid on some level. And being a mom will do that you, too. I just want this baby to be healthy and safe! But I also know how much work kids are. Going from 1 to 2 kids has been a big adjustment for me, and the idea of 3 is just a little bit scary. Okay, I'm terrified! (But you already knew that.) Who knows though, maybe I'll really find my groove?

"Thrilled but terrified" actually seems to be the recurring theme if you go back and read my other pregnancy posts (here and here). The thing is: Infertility is really, really hard. (Much love to all my sisters in infertility out there: it hurts, and it's not fair--I totally know.) Pregnancy is hard, too. And being a mom is hard--probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But it's also brought me so much happiness. I love what this blogger once said on her Instagram, that "hard" isn't the same thing as "bad." Just because life is hard doesn't mean you have to be unhappy. Life can be really hard and really good at the same time. 

Which is basically my life as a mom with young kids right now--really hard but really good. Really, really good...And I'm betting it's going to be even better with 3!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Favorite Christmas Traditions


Who else looks forward to their favorite Christmas traditions all year long? 🙋 I've been thinking a lot about why I love Christmas so much, and all the lights and music and magic wouldn't mean much to me without the memories that come with them. Christmas is all about traditions, like listening to Nat King Cole, drinking cocoa by the light of the Christmas tree, and reading Luke 2 as a family on Christmas Eve. Here are a few more of our family's favorite Christmas traditions that make our days merry and bright and remind us of the true reason for the season.

Christmas Book Advent - This is a new tradition this year, but it's already our favorite! Every night our kids get to unwrap a Christmas book from under the tree, and then we read it together before bedtime. They LOVE unwrapping each "present" (they call it), and even though most of the books are familiar ones from years past, they still ask to read them over and over. We borrow books from our local library to supplement our own, and some nights they get to unwrap a Christmas movie from our collection instead. Of course, I wait to put each night's present under the tree until RIGHT before they're about to open it, because, well...kids. 😉


"The True Meaning of Christmas" Family Home Evening - The first Monday in December, we have a family night (#fhe #iamamormon) about the true meaning of Christmas. It helps our family remember to focus on Christ throughout the season, and not get so wrapped up (pun intended) in all the presents and busyness and fun that we miss out on the joy of celebrating His birth. We sing Christmas songs about the baby Jesus, share a Christmas story or two, read about Him from the scriptures, and at the end, our kids get to unwrap their toy nativity from the under the tree (hooray for more presents before Christmas day!). While the songs and stories vary from year to year, the point is the same: that Jesus Christ is the true gift of Christmas.


Christmas Light Sight-Seeing - This tradition makes a great family night, too. In the past we've driven around the neighborhood or looked up the best houses to see (our local newspaper has a map on their website), and we've also visited the Botanical Gardens before too, which has a pretty spectacular light display. This year we went to see the famous lights in a not-so-famous little Idaho farming town, and it was just as spectacular as the Botanical Gardens, plus it was free! I have a feeling we'll be going back there year after year.

  

Date Night - Christmastime always seemed so romantic when we were young and in love (vs. not quite as young now but still in love). It's one of my favorite times to be with Ben, and as much as I enjoy cuddling in front of the fire at home with my man, we (well, I) try to plan at least one special night out for just the two of us. For years we went on a sleigh ride together, but we've since moved away, so the last few years we've just gone out for dinner and shopping at the plaza here. Still, spending the night holding hands, making eyes at each other, and admiring the lights feels just as rare and magical now that we have kids! Maybe this year we'll up the romance and get dressed up for dinner somewhere other than Chili's. (But he put his plug in to see Star Wars...😂)

Shopping for Toys for Tot - This is another new tradition, which my friend and her family have done for years. I felt inspired by #LighttheWorld to try it this week, so I'm excited to see how it goes! The plan is for each member of family member (especially each kid) to pick out a toy he or she would like to have, but instead of taking the toys home and putting them under the tree, we'll donate them to Toys for Tots. We're going to do this Friday, which is a day to focus on compassion as part of the #LighttheWorld movement.


Christmas Cookie Exchange - Yet another new tradition, another favorite! Dinner parties can be a challenge with little kids, so we decided to invite a few other couples over for dessert instead. We each brought a batch of Christmas cookies, sampled whatever we wanted, and split up the leftover cookies to take home. We also had one of our teenage neighbors over to help entertain the kids upstairs. It was such a fun night, and I'm already planning to do it again next year!  

Handing out Gift Cards to the Homeless - Since I'm out and about more than usual, I see more homeless people on the corners these days. Every year I like to buy a few gift cards to keep in my car--cards to shoe stores, clothing stores, grocery stores, restaurants--so that I always have something to give whenever I see someone in need. I try to give whatever card I think could help them most, like one to a shoe store if they have kids or to Walmart if "anything helps."

Caroling to Neighbors - Growing up, I loved going caroling at Christmas, and now that I go caroling with my own family, I'm amazed again at how much joy it brings. We sing just one short song--usually "Away in a Manger" or "Silent Night"--so that no one has to stand awkwardly in the cold for too long, and then we hand out treats. Our neighbors seem to love it, too! One neighbor who hadn't spoken a word to us in 2 years (we weren't sure if he was extremely shy or just rude) was obviously touched and said, "That was so nice. Thank you."


A photo posted by JENNY 🍑 FROM GEORGIA (@peachesandpotatoes) on

I'm sure our traditions will keep growing and evolving over the years, but the one thing that stays the same is the joy of sharing them with the people I love most. What are your family's favorite Christmas traditions?