My Daughters

Last Christmas Steve gave me a necklace that has initials and birthstones for me, Faith, and Natalie.  The other night, as I was taking it off, I held it in my hand a moment and thought, “my daughters”.

My daughters.

It made me happy for a moment.  I have two daughters!

But then I felt a wave of sadness.

I rarely talk about them that way.  To be honest I can’t remember a time that I have used the phrase, “my daughters” when talking with another person.  Even in my own mind I’m not sure I often think of them that way.

It’s hard to explain.

I think about Faith as my daughter, waiting for me in Heaven.  I think about Natalie as my daughter, with me here.  But somehow the fact that they are in different places keeps me from easily linking them together.

I love them both, but that love is lived out differently.  I know I have had two babies, but the world sees only one.

Maybe that’s part of the struggle.  So many people in my day to day life don’t know about Faith and I am okay with that.  But now I’ve become so accustomed to answering the “how’s your daughter?” question about Natalie alone, that it feels foreign to think of daughter in the plural instead.

Stranger still… if Faith was here, I’m not sure that Natalie would be.

I can’t find the right words to express something that my own mind can’t fully grasp.  This separation between my two girls.  Two sisters.  Two daughters.

And yet, are they really separate?

In body, yes.  But they are together in my heart.  They are wrapped up together in the love we share as a family.

And as Natalie grows and, I pray, comes to a relationship with Jesus for herself, we have the promise of togetherness in Heaven as well.

Oh my sweet daughters, I am so thankful to be your mom.

 

 

 

 

Playing House and Keeping House

Lately I find that our house has been taken over by toys.

There are toys in the family room and the living room.  There is an entire playroom upstairs dedicated to toys.  There are toys in our bedroom that I brought in for the purpose of keeping Natalie busy while I got ready for church.  There are toys in the basement being stored for when she’s big enough to play with them.

And guess what?

I love it.

To me those toys (and books, and blankets, and clothes…) are a happy reminder that a child lives here.  A little girl that I have the privilege of raising and loving and playing with and cleaning up after.

When I pick up her stuff in the family room, one of my favorite things is rearranging the doll house.

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The house was passed down to us and has just a couple people with it right now, but I’ve filled it with animal friends as well.  I like moving the furniture around and setting all of them up in different spots.

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I’ve always enjoyed “playing house”, but I’m not necessarily the best at “keeping house”.  That is to say, if you dropped in on a surprise visit there would probably be some part of my house that I would wave my hand and apologize for saying, “Sorry the house is such a mess right now.”

See how I throw that “right now” in at the end?  I thought I only did it out of habit, but now I’ve realized there’s probably more to it.  Maybe I hope those extra words will make it seem like the house is usually spotless, and you just caught me on an off day, or something like that.  I never planned it out that way, it just dawned on me recently as a logical explanation for my habitual comment.

(Please note: I don’t mean to imply that my house is grossly dirty.  The mess I refer to is more of the cluttered variety.  Just felt I had to clarify that, haha!)

Anyway, I don’t really have an excuse to explain away my sub-par housekeeping skills.  I mean, I have reasons that I know contribute, but that’s not the point.

I’ve read blogs/articles with strategies and tips for keeping a spotless house.  I’ve read other blogs/articles saying that moms should just focus on the time with kids and let the cleaning wait for later.

I don’t think either one is right or wrong.  Maybe a little of both is best?

Or, better yet, contentment.  Content but not complacent.

That is the point for me.

I’m not great at keeping up with housework.  It’s not a natural strong point for me, but I know I can develop some better habits and maintain things more than I do now.  I would like to do that.  I am working on that.

But…

I’m not going to beat myself up for the evenings when I want to just play with Natalie and leave the dishes piled in the sink.  Yesterday afternoon I spent her nap time cleaning, today I wrote this blog.  And I’m okay with both those scenarios.

Keeping house, for me, means doing my best for my family and my home.

It means being thankful for what I’ve been given.  It means swallowing my pride and not comparing myself to others.  It means being content where I’m at while still striving to improve on things that need improvement.  Most of all it means doing all things to the glory of God.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men

Colossians 3:23

I’m going to try to stop using that “right now” apology, so if you come to visit and the house is messy, just push aside the toys and settle in.  Maybe you can even help me with the next arrangement for Natalie’s dollhouse!

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4 Week Dinner Plan – Recipes

To follow up on the 4 week dinner plan, here are the recipes and/or links to where you can find them.  The self explanatory ones, such as BLTs, tacos, and spaghetti, are not included.  I kept them by week so hopefully that makes it easier to scroll through since this is very lengthy… my apologies!  I posted the grocery lists yesterday – you can click this link for easy access.

Happy dining!

Week 1:

Meatloaf (BBQ style)

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 2 Tbsp dried onion
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 tsp sage
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • BBQ sauce to top

Mix together and form into several individual loaves.  Top with BBQ sauce and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Tamale Pie - see this post

Honey Sesame Chicken - see this link

Salmon - see the end of this post

Chicken and Rice Bake

  • 2 cups cooked chicken
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 3/4 cup mayo
  • 1 can sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can water chestnuts
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Combine all in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Week 2:

Lentil Soup

  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • Ham, diced
  • Lentils
  • Salt and pepper to taste, other spices (ie cumin) to taste as well

Soften celery and onion in olive oil.  Add ham, lentils and water (follow the amounts given on the package of lentils depending on how much you want to make).  Simmer until lentils are soft and season to taste.

Chop Suey

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 – 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1.5 lbs ground chicken or pork
  • 1 can bean sprouts
  • 8 Tbsp corn startch
  • 8 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Rice
  • Crunchy Chinese noodles

Soften celery and onion for several minutes.  Add meat and brown.  Add bean sprouts.  For sauce: in separate bowl mix 1 1/3 cups cold water with corn starch, soy sauce, and sugar.  Add to meat mixture and stir over low heat until thickened.  Add Worcestershire sauce.  Serve over rice and top with crunchy noodles.

Pasta bake

  • Ground beef
  • Onion, diced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Rotini pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese

Brown beef.  Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are softened.  Cook pasta according to directions on box.  Stir pasta, beef, and sauce together in a large baking dish.  Top with mozzarella cheese and cook at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and dish is heated through.

Chicken and Biscuits - see this post

Week 3:

Chicken Quesadillas

  • Chicken breast
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 or more peppers (any color), sliced
  • Fajitas
  • Shredded cheddar

I like these best if the chicken is grilled first then sliced up, but if the weather isn’t right for grilling, then slice the chicken and saute it in veggie oil until cooked through and set aside.  Saute onion and peppers in veggie oil until soft.  Put together each quesadilla using 1 fajita filled with your chosen quantity of chicken, peppers and onions, and cheese.  I make these using a panini maker to get them nice and toasted brown.

Shepherds Pie - see this link

Cream of Broccoli Soup

  • Broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cans condensed cream of broccoli soup
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • Milk
  • Shredded cheddar

Saute onion and celery in butter or veggie oil.  When soft, add broccoli, corn, cream of broccoli soup, and milk (according to amount specified on cans).  Cook on low heat until broccoli is tender.  Use an immersion blender (or a similar method) to puree most of the broccoli.  I like to leave some pieces whole still.  Serve topped with shredded cheddar.

Stromboli

  • 1 package pizza crust dough
  • 1/2 lb mild Italian sausage
  • 1 package (8 oz) pepperoni
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Brown sausage over medium heat.  Mix in bell pepper, onions, sauce, and mushrooms.  Lay dough flat on a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle cheese over dough, then layer with pepperoni.  Spread sauce mixture on one half of the dough, then fold dough over and pinch ends and sides together.  Poke holes on top and brush with melted butter.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

Chicken Cordon Blue Paninis

  • Bakery bread (we like sourdough), sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
  • Sliced deli ham
  • 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/2 cup ranch dressing
  • Butter

Mix dressing and cheese in a small bowl.  Lightly butter one side of each slice of bread.  Fill each sandwich with chicken, ham, and dressing mix.  Cook in a panini press until bread is toasted and cheese is melty.

Week 4:

Chicken Stir Fry

  • Chicken breast, chopped
  • Frozen stir fry veggies
  • Stir fry sauce
  • Rice
  • Crunchy Chinese noodles

Saute chicken in veggie oil over high heat to brown, then cook through over medium heat.  Add stir fry veggies and cook until heated through.  Add stir fry sauce (amount to your taste) and serve over rice, topped with crunchy noodles.

Chili - see this link.  I usually half the recipe for us.

Cranberry Chicken

  • 1/2 can cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 bottle (4 oz) Catalina dressing
  • 1/2 envelope onion soup mix
  • 3 Chicken breast

Combine all ingredients except chicken in a sauce pan and cook over low heat, stirring until combined.  Place chicken in a baking dish and top with sauce. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.  Serve over rice.  (Easy to double this one for a larger group)

Crockpot Lasagna - see this post

Loaded Baked Potatoes - we like to top them with chili and cheese.  You could use leftover chili from the recipe above!

Shrimp Linguine - see this link.  This is what we ate the night before Natalie was born!

Phew!  Congrats if you made it this far!  And with that I don’t think I’ll be posting about food for a quite a while, haha!

 

 

4 Week Dinner Plan – Grocery Lists

A couple days ago I posted about the 4 week dinner plan we’re going to try.  I wanted to follow up with the grocery lists and recipes (or links to them).

I was thinking about trying to cram all 4 weeks of information into one post, but I realized that might be a little too long of a post!  So I’m going to share the grocery lists today and then I’ll follow up with the recipes tomorrow.

A few things to note before I get to the lists though…

As I was making my lists I realized that some ingredients kept coming back over and over.  For example: ground beef, chicken breast, onions, and shredded cheddar appear every week.  Other ingredients pop up more than once as well.  It probably makes sense to buy some things in bulk/larger quantities if it means saving some money, but I kept them listed every week just so it was clear what was needed when.

I didn’t include some staple items on the lists since they are things we generally have at home and I would imagine many other people do as well.  Examples include spices, condiments, eggs, bread, and milk.  There are other things, however, that are also pretty basic ingredients that many people probably already have, but I figured wouldn’t hurt to list just in case.  I also didn’t include things for side dishes.  These lists are what you need for the recipes but if you want extra veggies or sides to go along with it that’s obviously an individual choice.

Last thing – I wasn’t super careful with listing exact amounts of what you need.  For example, I just say chicken breast as opposed to 3 chicken breasts.  I know how much I need for our family, but it might need some adjusting based on the size of the family so I figured I’d stick with the simple approach and just avoid trying to give too much detail.

Okay… here come the lists!

week 1
week 2
week 3
Week 4

 

4 Week Dinner Plan

Here’s how meal planning typically goes around here lately. Steve texts me at school to say he’s heading to Wegmans to pick up some stuff and asks if I need anything.  I pull up a mental picture of our fridge and pantry, as best I can, and realize we probably need food for dinner.  When I get home I scramble to come up with some ideas that sound good for the next few days or so, type up a list, and email it to him.

Needless to say, it’s not the most effective method!

I’ve been feeling like my dinner plans lack inspiration and I tend to fall back on a few of the same meals over and over.  So, about a month ago, I decided that I’d like to try setting up a meal plan for us.  I wanted a way to rotate through more dinner options, as well as end that last minute list making and “what should we eat?” question.

It only took about 5 minutes for me to create a decent sized list of some of our favorite dinners and, with Steve’s input added, we came up with 4 weeks worth of meals.  Woot!

Of course the list then got tucked away somewhere and partially forgotten about, so today I finally went through it again and organized it some more.  I plan to start next week and thought I’d share what I came up with here for anyone who may be interested.

Disclaimer: This plan was not created to be necessarily healthy or low cost.  That’s not to say that the meals are unhealthy or expensive, just to clarify that they aren’t focused on being especially health conscious or wallet friendly, if that makes sense.  Pretty much these are meals that we like and would typically eat, just put down in an organized way!

Here’s how it works… Each week includes 6 meals and one “flex” day, as I call it.  The flex day is for pizza, take-out, special occasions, dinner out, leftovers, etc.  There are no repeat meals the whole 4 weeks, which means, with us starting next week, we’ll have a different dinner every night for the entire month of February!

I tried to mix things up to make sure there is variety throughout the week, both of the food we’re eating and the time/complexity of making the meals.  All of them are pretty easy to make though, since I’m cooking with a one year old around here, haha!

If we really like it we’ll probably rotate through a couple times.  And if we really really like it, I’ll make another plan when the warmer weather comes, since some of the foods we enjoy for dinner change with the seasons (ie more grilling and fresh foods in summer).

Anyway, without further ado, this is our 4 week plan:

meal plan

I’m hoping to post more about this, maybe include a shopping list and/or some recipes, in the coming weeks.  I’m excited to try it out!

How Many Kings?

Christmas is tomorrow.  Our tree is sparkling in the front window with presents wrapped beneath it, a special dinner is waiting to be cooked for our Christmas Eve celebration, our advent wreath is ready to be lit, Christmas music is playing as I sit here typing…

.. and, in the dining room, a little nativity scene is on display.

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How often do you stop and really think about what that nativity represents?  I wonder if we’ve become so familiar with it that we forget how incredible it truly is.

God came to earth.  God, the Creator and sovereign King of the world, as a baby.  Humbled and helpless.  Incarnate deity.

This isn’t just a tradition to me.  It isn’t some story that we read out of habit or a desire to feel “religious” at Christmas.  This is the truth.  This is the foundation of my life.  This is the reason we celebrate, the reason I have hope and joy and a future.

A baby in a manger who was God’s own Son.  Jesus, the long awaited Savior who would later die and rise again to pay the ransom for my sins because He loves me… because He loves you.

The words of the song How Many Kings (Downhere) are so powerful to me.  I hope you’ll read the chorus below and truly reflect on what these lyrics mean.  This is the truth of Christmas – God’s love for our world, for each and every one of us.  May His love surround and fill you today and always.  Merry Christmas!

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me.

Winter ONEderland

Natalie was barely 6 months old when I started brainstorming ideas for her birthday.  When I saw Winter Onederland pop up in one of my Pinterest searches, I knew that was it.  So, as summer weather rolled in, I started looking at snowflakes and hot cocoa bars and little snowmen on cupcakes.

birthday 5I’m so happy with how everything turned out.  But much more important than any of the decorations or food or plans I made was the happiness of sharing the day with our families.  Natalie has filled our lives with joy and it was such a gift to watch everyone celebrating together.

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The birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself too!  Sometimes she’s quiet in big groups, but she happily went from person to person, watching everything that was going on and making us laugh with her expressions and interactions.

It was everything I could have hoped for in celebrating her first birthday, and I’m so thankful for a special day that we’ll always remember.

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For those that are interested in a few more party details, here’s how the Winter Onederland theme came together…

Decorations:

I went with a silver, white, and pink color scheme.  I tackled a couple pretty simple crafts – a wreath for the front door and hanging paper snowflakes.

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I also found some supplies at a craft store – snowflake cut outs, silver pine cones, a snowy branch and silver branches, and silver votives.

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Pink and white chocolates and Jelly Beans in baby food jars served a dual purpose as both decorations and snacks.

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Food:

In keeping with a winter theme, the menu for lunch was chili and soup.  I found the chili recipe here and my Mom brought beef and veggie soup.  The chili was a crockpot recipe which helped a lot because I could prep everything the day before, then just turn it on in the morning.  We served cornbread (recipe here) and veggies and dip at the tables as well.

Natalie enjoyed the usual finger foods.  Green beans and apples are current favorites!

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Cake:

I made two cakes – one for the adults and one for Natalie.  Ours was chocolate and Natalie’s was a sort of carrot cake.  Less rich but still yummy (I tasted some of the extra!).  The recipe can be found here.

I used mini pans to make a 3-tiered cake for Natalie.  She was pretty dainty about getting into it.  She enjoyed the frosting for a bit, then I cut it open so she could try the rest.  Yum!

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I bought a pack of white fondant to create the cake decorations.  I used cookie cutters to make snowflakes – dyed pink or dusted with silver.  Natalie’s cake got a special little snowman topper as well.

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Favors:

I wanted to do something fun to send home and really liked the idea of a hot chocolate favor in baby food jars.  The hardest part was cleaning the sticky labels off the jars (haha!) but once that was done they were pretty easy to put together.

I used silver spray paint for the lids, then topped them with personalized snowflake monograms that my Dad had made at work.  I filled them with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows so everyone could go home with a little something.

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So there you have it, Natalie’s Winter Onederland 1st birthday!  I still can’t quite believe that she is one!  What a fun way to celebrate an incredible first year.  I’ll leave you with a couple extra pictures of the cutie (with her presents) since I can’t resist!

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