Monday, August 31, 2015

Our Favorite Recipes - August Edition

My friends often ask me what we are eating for dinner. My boy is incredibly picky, my husband doesn't consider anything a meal without meat, the baby eats EVERYTHING (and will likely eat us out of house and home!) and I try to eat mostly healthy and very little meat. Jarrod's also gluten intolerant, so we tend to eat meals that are gluten free or can be adjusted to be gluten free. We've been menu planning for years and have lots of recipes we know and love. With a husband in ministry and seminary, a full-time job, and two little ones, having quick and easy meals is crucial.

Jarrod and I menu plan about 2 weeks in advance. We look at the calendar while we're deciding what to make and who will make it. We plan 3-4 meals per week and eat leftovers the other nights. We both take leftovers to work several days a week as well. We also take into consideration events, family meals, church events, and nights out when planning the menu. Once we've decided on who is cooking what and when, we add it to our calendars. If it's on my calendar, I'm cooking. If it's on Jarrod's calendar, he's cooking. If there's nothing on the calendar, it means we're having leftovers!

This plan has worked well for us for several years. We used to plan weekly and that got too overwhelming. When we plan for 2 weeks we can stock up on things at Costco at the beginning of the month, make those meals for the first two weeks and then plan the next couple of weeks based on what we have left over. We usually get one or two meats, cheese, spinach, butter, and other baking goods at Costco monthly.

Here's our menu for this week:
Monday - Leanne makes mac and cheese with broccoli
Tuesday - Taco Tuesday - Jarrod makes chicken tacos from frozen chicken
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - Leanne's out, Jarrod and the kids have leftovers
Friday - Pizza night - we both make our own crusts and top the pizza with whatever we happen to have.
Saturday - Wedding for Leanne and Jarrod, pizza leftovers for the kids
Sunday - Leftovers or sandwich night

It's the end of the month so we're using what we have. We buy chicken, broccoli, and cheese at Costco, so we still have a lot of that. We also have lettuce, so I'm taking salads to work for lunch. Jarrod made peanut butter so he's having that for lunches. This stretches our leftovers.

Some of our favorite recipes from this month are:
Bacon Broccoli Cheese Pancakes - we make these about once a month. We usually have everything on hand in the fridge or freezer. Both kids LOVE them and they make decent leftovers. We use tortilla chips instead of bread crumbs to make them gluten-free.
Caprese chicken - Again, always have cheese and chicken. We use shredded mozzarella and it was delicious. We also buy balsamic at Costco and it's incredible. The kids didn't eat this, but Jarrod and I LOVED it on lettuce. It would also be delicious with pasta.
Tex-Mex Cheese Fries - This one takes a little bit more time because you have to boil and then bake the potatoes, but it's SO worth it. Leftovers aren't great, but this is still a great meal. I usually make a huge pot of black beans each month in the slow cooker and then freeze them, so we always have black beans on hand.
Green chile enchilada quinoa bake - A winner times 4! Both kids ate this and loved it. I felt good about it because they were getting great protein from the quinoa, yogurt, cheese, and beans, great flavor from the green chillies, and LOTS of spinach! Leftovers are delicious and this makes a ton. Which is great, because it's SO good!
Hash cups - I think this was actually new last month, but it was really good. I think we could have cooked the hash browns longer - they were a little mushy, but it was still good. I loved that everything was mostly cooked when it went in the oven, so the cooktime was low. This is also super versatile and can use a variety of veggies and meats.
King ranch chicken - This was a find by Jarrod and it did not disappoint! I had a recipe from years ago for king ranch chicken, but love that this one specifically called for corn tortillas. We left out the jalapeno and Eloise LOVED it. Wesley picked at the cheese and tortillas. I think he would have been more into it had Jarrod shredded the chicken with the kitchenaid instead of by hand. Wesley's a picky kid and he's not into big chunks of chicken. #crazykid

What are you eating? What's your favorite new recipe?
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ellie's favorite things

I cannot tell you how exciting it is for me to have a little girl in the house. We have bows, ruffles, glitter, and a lot of pink! She might not always go for the super girly stuff (in fact, I'm counting on that!) so I'm taking advantage of it while I can! Eloise turned 14 months yesterday and that means we have a toddler in the house. Ellie is walking, talking, dancing, and running!

Having a toddler in the house again is reminding me of some of our very favorite items for new walkers. Eloise has just recently begun walking. She is starting to run and has completely given up crawling. Of course most of her favorite toys are her brother's. She loves chasing the dog, following her brother around, and carrying things. She doesn't need much and really doesn't have much. (#secondkidprobs) But there are a few things that have been favorites from Wesley and a few things that are new to us that she loves!

Wesley had a push walker like this one, but when Ellie got this as a gift for Christmas, we knew it was a superior walker. This is the VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker and it's awesome. The white piece comes off and can sit on the ground for little ones to play with. The best feature is that the wheel speed is adjustable. As babies are just learning to toddle around, you can set the wheels super slow or even brake them completely. As your baby becomes more mobile, you can make the wheels faster. Ellie tears around the house on this thing!

Our FANTASTIC social worker gave me a long list of adoption books when we adopted Eloise. Recently I went back to that list and ordered a few from Just In Case You Ever Wonder is one of my absolute favorites. This book is written by Max Lucado, who has long been a favored writer of mine. This book is all about the love a parent has for a child but also has a beautiful few pages on adoption. Many of my favorite books about parental love feature a pregnant mama. This book describes God choosing a parent for a child. It is perfect for our infant-adoption story. If you know of a family adopting an infant, this is a beautiful gift!

I shouldn't recommend this car because it's been discontinued, but it is AWESOME. We have the Bright Starts Having a Ball Pop and Roll Roadster, but I'm sure there are others like it that are equally awesome. Wesley got this for his first birthday and has used it literally since. That's 2.5 years of constant use. He pushes himself around on it like a race car driver. He LOVES it. Eloise loves it now too. She doesn't ride it as much but does stand up and push it like a push toy. We long stopped using it with the balls, but that was pretty neat when Wesley was a baby...until the first time he put something in there that didn't fit... We ended up taking the cover off the top and eliminating the frustration factor of this toy - I imagine that is why this toy is discontinued.

That aside, this riding toy has been the longest lasting toy in our house. Nothing has been loved more than this car. Wes adored it. Ellie loves it and I know she'll continue to love it for at least a few more years.

Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of Wesley's favorite things as well. He's a crazy 3.5 year old who loves using his imagination, running, and playing. I'll also share a few things that Jarrod and I love too!

What are some of your favorite things?
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Our Life, Debt-Free

Timehop told me that it'd been 2 years since we became debt-free. I can hardly believe it's been 2 years and I can't believe it's been 2 whole years! I thought it might be fun to do a little breakdown of what we've done since we became debt-free. Here's a post about the goals we set for ourselves.

I always think it's interesting to match reality up with what our goals were. When I think back to what we were able to do with our money in 2 years, I'm humbled and disappointed at the same time. Some thing didn't go according to plan AT ALL. It took us much longer to establish our emergency fund. We had to replace wrecked cars with clunkers at very inconvenient times. We didn't start saving for retirement or college until months after I'd planned. That all disappoints me. However, we were also able to do all of those things with cash. And we paid for an adoption completely with cash. Reflecting like this gives me the opportunity to see how far we've come.

July - paid off last debt!
August-September - Save and pay cash for Jarrod's seminary tuition
October - After car troubles and an unrelated accident, we need to purchase a new-to-us vehicle. While we aren't out much cash, it does stress out our budget and take time to have a car totaled and find a new car for cash.
November - Celebrated our debt freedom with a trip to Nashville as a family to do our debt-free scream.

October-December - Save emergency fund. We opted for closer to a 3 month emergency fund rather than on the side of 6 months because we both have very stable jobs and consistent income. 
Honestly, I'm sure not sure how we did all of that in 2013! But we did and chugged into 2014 with no debt and a good start on our emergency fund! 
January - We mailed off our paperwork after choosing a foster care agency to facilitate an adoption. We continued saving money towards our emergency fund with plans to start an adoption fund after that.
February-April - Emergency fund is fully funded! Perfect timing...because in late April we meet Eloise's birth family, get lawyers on retainer, and save every penny to pay for an adoption!
May-June - Continue putting every dollar we have towards bringing our baby home. In June both our cars break down - fix a water hose in one and buy a replacement vehicle altogether for the other. More money, but thankfully we have it and pay cash for everything.
July-September - Eloise's adoption is finalized in September and the bills stop coming. We are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to pay for her entire adoption with cash.
October-November - Build up emergency fund again now that the adoption is complete and the car drama is over! I also quit my job and took a pay cut to be home with the kids more. This wouldn't have been possible if we weren't debt-free!
December - Save money for an upcoming vacation!

January - We FINALLY begin saving for retirement and the kids college. It feels like it took us forever to get to this step, but we finally made it! We put 15% away towards retirement (not counting Jarrod's mandatory pension) and more for the kids college.
February-May - We continue saving for retirement and kids college each month. We put "extra" money towards a vacation to Seattle in July. Once that is funded, we begin saving for a Disney trip we are planning for January of 2017...
June - We get the opportunity to go to Las Vegas for my cousin's wedding. It's a very last minute trip, but we decide to go for it! We buy two plane tickets and book a hotel for a few days. We use the money we'd set aside for Disney knowing we will put that money back long before that trip in 2017. We are so thankful for the opportunity to do this without taking away from our other financial goals.
July - After saving for 6 months, we go to Seattle with our friends! We put enough money away before June to do Seattle exactly how we wanted to. We ate great food and got some souvenirs. And the only thing that followed us home was the memories!
August-current - We are saving for a graduation trip for next May after Jarrod graduates from seminary. It's been 3 long years and we want to go somewhere just the two of us. We should have that saved by the end of the year... After that, we plan to save for a family trip to Disney World. Our goal is to take the kids for Wesley's 5th birthday. Once we meet that savings goal, we plan to save to upgrade Jarrod's car. It's a while off, but we still have goals.

These savings goals are on top of normal goals like retirement and kids college. I'm not the most patient person and sometimes I want to speed through this season. I know how important it is to just continue doing what we're doing - putting money into college and retirement, a little for vacations, and living below our means. Slow and steady wins the race!

What are your goals? How are you using your finances to achieve them?
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

FOR.THE.LOVE of Jen Hatmaker

I first shared about Jen Hatmaker when I read her book and it wrecked my life. I wrote about her again when I saw her speak at a local church. Most recently I wrote about her to tell you that I was chosen to be on the launch team for her latest book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.

Y'all. I can't even.

I feel like Jen Hatmaker and I are officially friends now. The community that has come from the private facebook group for this launch team has been incredible. I recently shared a struggle that I couldn't share in a more public forum. I received such grace, prayers, and encouragement. It is a daily joy.

For the Love officially comes out TODAY. I have been reading it, rereading it, and sharing my thoughts about it since March when I received my pre-release copy. It's incredible. Jen Hatmaker has such a gift of sharing things that are in my head and making them sound glorious. I don't know what I can do to convince you that you need this book, but I'm going to try. I've never been good at book reports. Are you supposed to go through the book chronologically and review it? Or is it better to just give the highlights? Or is it supposed to be a summary? Who knows.

First let me share with you one of my very favorite parts of the book. It's "off the beam." Here's an example: "Cleaning my house is off the beam." Jen writes about her daughter and her experience on a balance beam. She says that we need to unload our beams. We are overwhelmed by perfection, expectations, and all.the.things. Decide what's most important and that's on the beam. Loving my kids - on the beam. Being present with my family - on the beam. Walking every day - on the beam. Having perfect hair - off the beam. Stylish clothing - off the beam. Spotless house - off the beam... You get the idea. Now take that phrase and use it 3 times today. Seriously. So applicable and freeing!

I'm going to do is share some awesome quotes by Jen Hatmaker and beautiful images by my fellow launch team sisters.
I mean, I've always known this and have been trying to articulate it for years. But bam. There it is.

It is not in God's nature to make something true for me and not true for someone else. God didn't bless me especially because I'm white, educated, and American. That's privilege, not related to who God is. Of course my privilege INFLUENCES my understanding of God, but they are not one in the same. I think about this stuff a lot and it changes the way I think about God and how I treat people.

Think about it this way...
Jen writes about her experiences in Haiti working with Help One Now. This amazing quote comes in the section of her book about discerning our call. We often get over-anxious about our "calling." But if my calling is big and complicated and takes a masters degree just to figure it out, how can a poor single Christian mama in Haiti also have a calling? Perhaps our view of calling is too complicated. Jen suggests we instead view our gifts. Are we using our gifts?

One huge element in my theology is my understanding that our job as Christians is to bring heaven to earth. Every night we pray with the kids "on earth as it is in heaven" from the Lord's Prayer. This is important to me because I have control over how I treat others and how I follow Jesus. If I live my life like Jesus, earth will look a little more like heaven.
But how do we do this? Love God, love people. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Treat people as you want to be treated. If you want to be great, be a servant. (Straight from the book... For the Love AND the Bible...) It's that simple. But it's not easy, right? I don't always want to be a servant. I don't want to always want to treat people the way I want to be treated. But I know that is what God wants from me. That's how to live like Christ. And isn't that was Christians are supposed to be doing?

Jen Hatmaker writes the most accessible and appropriate theology that I've read in a long time. I love reading about her understanding of God. However, I also love her parenting advice and fashion advice. Don't believe me? Check out this fashion advice. It's worth gold. There is literally a whole chapter on fashion concerns in this book. The way Jen writes about yoga pants literally makes me pee my (yoga) pants.
For the purpose of this essay, “workout pants” can be worn during actual exercise or, say, just living your life because stretchy pants feel nice (page 26). 
If you're offended by being told yoga pants aren't really pants, perhaps Jen Hatmaker isn't your jam. If you laugh (even if you know she's talking to you!), read on. Perhaps work-out pants aren't for you to wear Don't worry, Jen has some suggestions...
Thank you, Maxi Dresses, for helping me appear dressed up, as though I really made an effort, but making me feel as if I’m wearing a nightgown out in public. You are basically crotchless yoga pants, and I salute you (page 52). 
So there's theology and humor. What else could you possible need from a book? How about parenting advice. Who doesn't want parenting advice from the genius that brought us "Worst End of School Year Mom Ever"? Seriously.
This is Jen's advice to her 5 kids. She has 3 bio and 2 adopted kiddos. (So obviously when we adopted Eloise I got excited that I am finally in the same category as Jen Hatmaker!) and is a self-proclaimed laid-back mama. I consider myself fairly laid back with my kids too, but still want them to grow up to be responsible members of society. Chapter 11 is a letter Jen writes to her kids outlining her dreams for them. I know it's cliche, but I laughed and cried. It's beautiful, funny, and profound. And seriously, how simple is this advice? I need this reminder everyday. Leanne, be kind. Leanne, be you. Leanne, love Jesus. It is that simple...but really isn't as easy for me to follow as it sounds!

The final quote I want to share with you is from a chapter about using your gifts. I love love love this chapter and probably need to reread it weekly. It is about doing what you love and giving your gifts back to the world. This means being humble but not self-effacing. Jen reminds us that our kids are watching. She shares a story about her mom who went back to school to get her teaching degree. It wasn't easy or convenient, but she did it because it was what she needed to do. I want my kids to be proud of me and see me doing things that I love and am good at. I want my daughter to see me working hard and being passionate. This obviously doesn't always mean working outside the home for everyone. This also doesn't always mean making billions of dollars. But it does mean valuing your skills, using what you are passionate about, and working hard.

Okay, if the incredible theology, parenting advice, fashion laughter, and quotes didn't get you, For the Love also has recipes. Recipes for Jen's Beef Bourguignon, homemade pizza, and something with lamb that Jen insists is amazing. (just.can't.) And a chocolate cake. YUM! These recipes are shared within the context of supper club - Jen believes in the power of bringing people together over food. You know this speaks to my soul. After having our own supper club for several years, I love this so much.

For the Love is challenging because Jen doesn't sugar-coat her words. But it's also funny, practical, and affirming. I found myself "uh huh"ing many (many many many!) times throughout the book. I also wished I could share the quotes I was reading on social media as I was reading them because they were that good. If you're looking for a great book to add to your library that will encourage you to be the best you can be, encourage you in the uncomfortable world of following Jesus, and make you laugh, For the Love is what you're looking for. You won't be disappointed. 

Plus, my name is in the book. Seriously. This launch team has been one of the coolest things ever. And on top of that, I'll be headed to a launch team party AT JEN'S HOUSE in a few weeks. I can't even. 
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Watermelon First Birthday!

It's been a while, but I wanted to pop in and share some details about Eloise's first birthday! Of course I cannot believe it's been a year. I began planning her birthday when she was about 3 months old. I chose a watermelon theme because it was perfect for a summer party.
With all that time, I spent months pinning and researching things on pinterest. I had a fantastic pinboard going and knew that I'd be able to DIY most of her party. The first thing I worked on was the invitations. I combined a few and created this one:
I sent this out digitally to save the date and then had some printed and handed them or mailed them to friends and family. I used to print them on 5x7" premium paper. 

Because of scheduling, we opted to have Eloise's party on the 4th of July. We had a morning party with light snacks. It was a good time of day for us and seemed to work for most of our friends and family as well! 

Our guests were greeted by this watermelon wreath. It's just a styrofoam wreath covered with tulle. I also pained an E like a watermelon and hot-glued it to the wreath. The E hung on for a few weeks, but has since fallen off. I'm sure there were better ways to hang it other than hot glue... I hung the wreath by looping ribbon around the wreath and securing it on the other side of the door. I used a lot of tulle and ribbon for most of my projects! 

The snack table was just our kitchen table with a cheap pink table cloth. I used our own bowls and plates to serve the snacks. We served goldfish crackers, pretzels, carrots and dip, watermelon slices, and grapes. We used inexpensive green and pink plates and napkins. I added a few pictures from Eloise's birthday photo shoot on the table and hung a banner of her monthly photos over the table. I mounted the photos on green and pink scrapbook paper. 

The other banner I made was fabric! I used my embroidery machine and appliqu├ęd letters on triangles for Eloise's name. Then I sewed the triangles to a ribbon and hung it outside the kitchen. It was super cute. And I'm pretty sure it's still hanging there... 

Of course we also had a dessert table!

That's Wesley's hand by the cupcakes... It was hard to keep him away from them. He finally got one during the party and was SO happy! (And hot and sweaty from running around with his friends!) 

I made a cupcake stand by following this tutorial. I'd planned to just serve cupcakes, but with a growing guest list, I opted to order a cake as well. For the cupcakes, I followed this recipe and just adjusted for cupcakes. I colored them hot pink and added a few chocolate chips. The icing is from this recipe and is colored green. I used a piping bag and a few different tips to frost the cupcakes. 

For the cake, I just ordered a plain hot pink cake from the local grocery store. I asked them to leave off all decorative icing. When I got it home, I added green around the bottom and a few chocolate chips in the middle it turned out perfect! 

Because of our love for sweets, I've tried to keep Eloise's diet fairly natural when it comes to sweetness. For this reason, I decided to make her smash cake free of sugar. I used this healthy baby cake and it was perfect. I made several layers in small pyrex bowls and layered with frosting. It was perfect for Ellie, although my presentation wasn't perfect. I'm so glad that I went with the healthy cake. I had no problem allowing her to eat the whole thing at the party! She loved it and it's full of great things for her. 
She didn't seem to mind and dove right in! I also created a little skirt for her high chair. I simply wrapped tulle around a string and hot glued it to the chair. I pulled it right off after the party. 
We had a photographer capture pictures from the party, and I'm so glad we did! We did this for Wesley's first birthday as well and it freed us up to enjoy the party without worrying about getting pictures. 

I was very excited about creating Eloise's outfit. I embroidered a onesie with her name and a watermelon. I made her bow using cute ribbon from Hobby Lobby and a clip. I made these precious bow elastic sandals and added little bows to match her hair bow. I also made her tutu with tulle and a little extra ribbon. The tutu really made the outfit! I learned that the glitter tulle is pretty, but not ideal for a tutu because it leaves glitter everywhere. So I used the glitter tulle for the wreath and opted for regular pink for her tutu. 

Because her party was actually over a week after her birthday, on her birthday we did a big photo shoot. Here are a few of my favorites: 

I really cannot believe our little girl is one year old. It's been a crazy year and I cannot imagine our family without her. She's blessed us in ways I couldn't have even imagined. She's opened doors for us and brought us family that has made our life so much more full. 
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