Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meal Planning: A Love-Hate Relationship

I kind of hate planning meals for my family. I love feeding them nutritious, homemade, satisfying meals, but putting together a decent hot meal (or even a cold one sometimes) with a walking/running one-year-old boy who likes to fling his books and wooden blocks clear across the house is a challenge. After almost a whole year of being a stay-at-home-mom, I've finally sucked it up and conquered the task. Here's what works for me:

turkey burgers and roasted sweet potatoes from Monday night
1. Find your middle ground. If you're a type A+ like me, you may dream of Iron Chef worthy dinners each night. When I was working and I only cooked one meal a week, I could spend the effort and money on some pretty amazing food. That is not my reality right now. My compromise is that I can't spend hours (or even an hour) cooking, but I'm not willing to use non-food or processed ingredients more often than once in a blue moon. Sorry, Velveeta. My priority is to feed my family whole grains, produce, lean protein, and plant-based fats at each meal.

2. Make a list and stick to it. I used to scoff at this common recommendation, but that was before I planned our meals. I would make a list of all of the ingredients for the meals I might possibly make during the week, but even when I stuck to my list, I was spending too much and food was going unused and eventually landing in the trash can. Make a list of only the ingredients you need to complete the meals you're making for the week, and stick to it. This takes some discipline, but it's a valuable skill.

3. Come up with some reliable standby meals, something that you always have on hand and know you can whip up in a hurry if you're too exhausted or busy to make a new meal. We usually have whole wheat pizza dough in the freezer, so a veggie pizza requires almost no effort from me and is tasty and nutritious. I keep a bag of frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp in the freezer, and can quickly thaw two servings under cold running water. I throw the shrimp, some olive oil, salt, pepper, basil or oregano, and cherry tomatoes into a roasting pan, roast for 10 minutes or so, and serve it over brown rice. If you add some butter and freshly grated Parmesan to the roasting pan after the shrimp has cooked, you will have some very happy eaters.

4. Break it up! We're having chicken enchiladas tonight, and I needed to roast the whole chicken today. I put the chicken in the oven at 8 am, so that I could have this main task completed way before it's time to make dinner. There's no way I'm willing to roast a chicken once it's 100 degrees outside. If I'm making tacos, I'll prepare the meat in advance and then I only have to assemble the toppings in the evening. You get the idea.

Food we've eaten this week (there are only a couple of pics because it's only Wednesday):

Homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella, herbs, bell peppers, and kalamata olives. Not my favorite combination, but not every meal has to be perfect. I used what we had on hand.

Homemade Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn. Not healthy or nutritious, but freaking delicious. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

(Happy Quiet) Monday

Today I am
 trying to stick to a menu
 telling him no

trying to keep my lens clean (note the sticky baby finger on the right side)
 feeling grateful I have this monitor
 producing piles of empty edamame shells (yum)

 updating my resume
 letting this dough rise slowly
editing photos

I am thankful for happy quiet Mondays, rare as they are.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Mornings: MacGyver & Pancakes

Don has really fond memories of watching MacGyver with his Dad as a child. Thanks to Netflix, he can carry on the tradition with William.
This is possibly the only time that William actually lies still while he's awake. It lasts about ten minutes, and then William gets up and plays while MacGyver music fills the living room. And I make pancakes. Whole wheat pancakes with bananas and toasted pecans. Mmmm.

I used to hate making pancakes because I felt so guilty eating them and feeding them to other people that it just wasn't worth it, but I have to say these whole wheat pancakes are nutritious. Yep, they're actually good for you (minus the syrup). No sugar crashes or pancake coma an hour after eating them. And with sliced bananas and toasted Texas pecans, they are pretty dang delicious.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Happy Eating: Baby Mama Smoothies

Sometimes William is not in the mood to eat a million tiny crumbs of whole grain brain, chopped up greens, half-moons of mozzarella cheese, and slivers of turkey meat. Sometimes, he has a stuffy nose and is not so interested in playing with or eating his food. On days like this, I make us both a healthy smoothie and call it a meal.

Here's the thing I've learned about feeding homemade smoothies to my child: he loves them as much as I do, and I can pack them so full nutritionally that they're healthier than what I could get him to eat off of his highchair tray. The beauty of a smoothie is that it can change a food's texture. William doesn't like cooked spinach, but he can't yet snack on raw spinach leaves. Blended in with his smoothie, he gets all the benefits of raw spinach.

Side note: I know many pediatricians and parents disagree about what is okay to feed your baby. If these foods aren't things you would give to your child, you don't have to make this smoothie! :)

Banana-Mango Milk Smoothie:
2 cups of soy milk or whole milk
1 cup of frozen mango chunks (we buy a huge bag of them at Sam's Club)
1 whole banana, peeled
1 pinch of cinnamon, optional
1/2 cup whole oats (try Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats, not the quick-cooking or instant kind)

Pour milk and remaining ingredients into blender jar and blend until totally smooth. Add more milk to get the consistency you prefer.

The uncooked whole oats provide a full serving of whole grains.

Green Monster (or Spinach & Strawberry) Smoothie:
2 cups of soy milk or whole milk
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves (I leave the stems on.)
1 cup of frozen strawberries
1/2 cup of whole oats

Same directions as Banana-Mango Milk Smoothie.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Working With What You've Got

When I became a traveling clinical research associate, I was given $800 to set up my home office with furniture, since I would be working from home between trips. Like any rational clinical researcher, I immediately went to Hobby Lobby and bought this ginormous gold frame to use as a mood board in my office. A mood board in research proved to be an unusable thing since pretty much every bit of paperwork I had was considered proprietary information and was not fit for display. So, like everybody else, I turned it into a chalkboard.

I'm not a big fan of this entry table set up. One day I will find the perfect dresser or buffet on Craigslist and my toy/ extra dishes/ toilet paper/ rarely used table linens storage problem will be solved, but until then I'm working with what I've got. I toyed around with writing our story, solely out of quotes from yours truly and Don, on the board, but this didn't feel right to me either.

Tonight, as I was taking down William's birthday decorations, and feeling bummed that I would have to pack away the cheerful pom-pom trim and colorful photos, I decided to bust out my staple gun and attached the pom-pom trim to the chalkboard to make it a big photo collage.

 Of course, this idea struck me at 10 pm when Don was on a run (he's one of those creepy nighttime joggers) and our bedroom was already in disarray and there was a ton of laundry to fold and a kitchen to clean.

I like this entryway much more now. I also left the writing on the chalkboard and didn't erase it to keep it interesting.

One Year Ago Today

William was a big newborn, but we thought he was so tiny. I remember feeling like I never left the glider. I remember nursing and nursing and nursing him in that chair, which we moved into the living room so that I could still be part of the rest of the world. I know people often talk about how hard it is to care for a newborn, but Don and I have great memories of that time. It was the longest we'd ever had together without one of us working. Don took off a full 8 weeks and, because of my c-section, got up for every single feeding and brought William to me. That's when we ordered Netflix. We haven't had cable for years, but I was really tied to that rocker and wanted to watch cooking shows, so Don went to Target and bought me DVDs of Paula Deen and Giada DiLaurentis and Barefoot Contessa. And lots of mint chocolate chip ice cream, even though I wasn't pregnant anymore. We spent a ton of time just holding our sleeping (or crying) newborn and feeling so blessed. I don't think we cooked once for the first 2 months. We had so many wonderful friends and family who set up a care calendar and brought us food. It was pretty awesome. It's so amazing to look back and see how much our lives have changed in just one year. Does anyone else ever scroll back through their pictures and see what life looked like a year ago?

P.S. That's a Topo Chico water in my hand. I didn't booze it up at my son's cowboy breakfast. :) 

Monday, June 20, 2011

William is One!

Our littlest cowboy turned one on Thursday and we had a sweet family party by meeting Don for lunch at Maudie's South. Don and I used to go there several times a week, but since becoming parents, we go there once a month or so. The servers are so kind and loved to see William have his birthday lunch there. He had his first sopapilla (minus the honey) and loved it.

On Saturday, we celebrated with family and friends by hosting a cowboy breakfast birthday party. We served this cowboy breakfast casserole, bagels and cream cheese, fruit, and Bill Miller's awesome hash browns. The cupcakes were actually these whole-wheat apple muffins with vanilla cream cheese frosting, since William loves those muffins so much. I snapped a few pics before the party started.

I made a cupcake tower by wrapping old boxes in parcel paper and tying them with folded red wrapping paper, ribbon, and raffia. I tucked photos of William into the ribbons to hide the tape that held everything together. Those are my mom's baby cowgirl boots from when she was a little girl!

I can't believe I don't own a cri-cut. Those things are genius. My new BFF Brandi helped me make his banner and cupcake toppers.

I hung pompom fringe across the dining room window and used clothespins stamped with pet names for William to hang our favorite photos of him.

In the center, we hung our prayer for him. 

The party favors were actually for the parents, since the average baby age was less than 1 year. The bags held packages of graham crackers, marshmallows, and mini hershey bars to make microwave s'mores.

The balloons cast a light like stained glass later in the evening.

Allison & Ryan & Blythe. Blythe wears bows. Big bows. I want to pick her up and hug her every time I see her because she looks like a baby doll. 
Laurel, Jason, and Braxton. Braxton is an angel. Look at those baby lips!

Jason, Allison, and Avery. Avery is William's baby girlfriend, though she doesn't know it. He LOVES her. He always tries to touch her face and she just pushes his hands away. 

Bill & Evan & Sarah. Sarah's stomach is way too flat to have just had a baby. Rock on, sister.

My brother-in-law Ryan and nephew James. James may or may not have eaten a cupcake before William did. I like the glazed over look as he eats his icing!

My sister Catherine and her son, Rhys, who is only a couple of weeks younger than William. The boys look so much alike.

My BFF Adri and Lucas.

My sister Mo, Myles, and Jenny. Myles is such a little chunk; I could just eat him up.

Just for kicks, we tried to take a picture of all of the babies sitting next to each other. Ha. Check out Avery's tooshie as she escapes the photo session, and William starting to remove Blythe's bow. Despite this pic, these babies have grown up together and love each other. 
I'm so sorry we didn't get pictures of everyone, but we were so thrilled to have such a fun day for William's first birthday party.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Everything Has Changed

Each time I open this page to write, I falter. I hesitate between writing something like I might normally write and writing something that is more truthful and personal. Here is my compromise.

On the surface, everything looks the same. I am dressed, wearing make-up, caring for my boys, having girls night out, taking pictures, paying bills. Three mornings a week William and I can be found walking our loop at Town Lake, feeding the ducks. And dinner has miraculously appeared on the table most nights, and our clothes are clean, and on a nightly basis Don makes me laugh so hard I almost cry. Almost.

But beneath the surface, beneath my heart, there is a river whose depths cannot be guessed at, save by another mother who has already navigated them herself. See, in my sparkly Target flip flops and my new haircut, I am navigating the rapids. I am not alone, far from it, but my company watches for me from the shore. Here on the water, on my own private river, it is just me. Just me who birthed a baby who wasn't ready yet, just me who felt her go.

I am so blessed, most definitely by my own mother who came and spent ten days with us in case I felt like crying. I am so blessed to have Don, my rock of a husband. I have come to believe that husbands who are spiritual leaders are few and far between, and I feel rushing gratitude that he is my partner. And I am so blessed to have my sisters, Catherine and Melanie, and my best friends, the kind of friends who didn't call before they came, who just showed up unannounced with lasagna and champagne and chocolate.

So, please understand if, when you ask me how I'm doing, I brush right through with, "Fine. And you?" It's not that I don't want to talk about her, the loss, it's just that there's too much to say. And for the record, I'm doing great. There is real and true joy in my life. There is also longing. I have a child whose face is hidden from me, whose cheeks I cannot touch. I'm as fine and sorrowful as that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This hurts, and God is still good.

Dear Violet, baby of mine, baby two, little green,

I have carried your name since I was a little girl. Violet, a flower, growth, love, beauty. A treasure of a name, I tucked it in my pocket and waited, knowing one day I would get to use it. What a sweet day it was for your daddy and me when we saw you for the first time. A squiggly little bean on a black and white screen.

Violet. Sometimes it's hard for me to say your name, but how can I not say it? For all those weeks, I carried you in my womb, and for a short, bittersweet moment after you died, I got to hold your little forming body in my hands. You were so small that I couldn't believe it, a miracle in the palm of my hand.  The most heart-breaking 4 inches of my life. I won't turn you into a silent "she," or worse, a nothing. Your little life has become a placemarker in mine. A dividing line in the short timeline of my days. There were those days before you, and the days that come after. I believe you are in heaven, but I will carry your name in my heart until I am an old woman standing at a kitchen sink, grandchildren scattered at my feet, love all around me, and I will pull your name from my pocket just the way my own grandmother used to pull a tissue from her blouse. It will be vibrant and new, just like you.

Some people grieve losses by mourning for things that never were. I understand that, but I am not one of those people. Today, my heart hurts for what I had that is lost to me, the thrill of a second baby on the way, the bliss of carrying another child for the husband I adore, the small joys of choosing baby clothes and thinking about decorating a nursery. 

Tiniest baby of mine, our time together was good. We went to yoga, we ate well, we spent many hours laughing with good friends under the oak tree across the street, and we rocked your big brother to sleep a hundred times. Our time together was full of hope and assurance in Him. Even when I saw the first tell-tale signs that I was losing you, the smear of bright blood where none should have been, the sharp pains in my side, I was filled with hope that He would take care of us.

And you know what? He is. Each time that I start to float away from the love that surrounds me, He pulls me back. 

Little daughter, dream baby, child I held only once, please know that I have so much love for you, and that I always will. No matter how many children I have or don't have, you were my second child, the child for whom I prayed. You will always be my answered prayer.

Your mama

"For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
-Psalm 138: 13-14