Quick Prep Fall Meals!

Before I got married, I did not know there was a difference between "winter meals" and "not winter meals." It's a whole thing. Apparently when you cook for someone who works outside, this distinction is crucial. Summer meals include things like big salads, fresh fish, BLT's, and anything off the grill (unless your grill is a giant green egg and you have no clue what THAT means or how to use it). You're supposed to avoid things that boil on the stove, have the word "loaf" in the recipe, or require jars of tomato sauce.

Every once and a while I read through my husband's text messages-- mostly because I am smart and have seen too many episodes of Dateline but also because the ones between him and his coworkers are hilarious. Except I stopped laughing when I recently read this one between Mike and his buddy Graham:

"Wife made pot roast tonight... Probably having chili tomorrow."

First of all, I love that he refers to me as "Wife" like we're eighty-years-old. Secondly, so what if it was the hottest day in August, pot roast was the only thing my baby-fried-mind could think of!

I personally feel that the gift of cooking for someone else negates their ability to complain, as I explained to Mike many a time our first year of marriage as he kept referring to my meals as "goulash" but whatevs, I guess the feedback was constructive.

SO now that it's mid-October, I feel that it is time to share some recipes that are husband approved (because since I barely do his laundry and retired all my lingerie-- it is important to keep him satisfied other ways!)

All these meals can be prepped early in the day. I have a lot of mischief to manage during the 5-7pm time slot and have learned if I wait until then to start dinner, everything gets real tense, real quick.

Archie getting impatient and foraging
If it's not a crock pot meal, I like to get dinner prepped around 2pm while my daughter is at school and the boys fake-nap (because nobody really sleeps but I am committed and still go through the motions), put things in the fridge then finish cooking a little before 5. Our bedtime routine starts at 6:15/6:30 so this keeps things from feeling rushed and allows me to spend my time with my husband relaxing rather than rushing to finish dinner and clean the kitchen!

These little people are fun to cook for!

Butternut Squash Soup 

Buy a few bags of precut, diced butternut squash (I find them at CostCo or TJ's)
Dice an onion
Put it all on a few baking sheets and coat with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and s & p
Roast for 30 minutes at 425 degrees, turning a few times-- or not, whatever it will still be good
Put everything in a high power blender (i.e. Vitamix or you can use an immersion blender) with chicken stock/broth
Blend, and pour into a dutch oven or pot-- the negative with this meal is all the cooking sheets but at my house they all go into the dishwasher!
Add enough broth to get the consistency you want-- I like my soup to be thick!
Heat until boiling then quickly turn down to simmer
Simmer as long as you want! The longer the better but don't let it burn :)
Add heavy cream if that's your thing a few minutes before serving
Definitely add bacon pieces and/or goat cheese crumbles

Roasted Chicken with Apples

I love, love, love this dish. I could make a roasted chicken EVERY day. The only problem is-- I ALWAYS cook it upside down. It is a really issue. I don't know why. I think it's because I never cooked raw meat until I got married so it all still overwhelms/confuses me. And the chicken looks so close to being alive with its little legs and wings that you have to tuck under, I consider becoming a vegetarian everytime, it is just a lot to deal with. So I flip my chicken halfway through in case it was upside down initially!

This is the original recipe. I season the chicken with whatever I have on hand, usually one of my favorite blends from Penzey's. The last 30-45 minutes I drizzle it with honey too, because-- so good! Onions and sweet potatoes are your friends here- cube them and add them to the pan and if you don't have more room, add more pans! The apples will totally surprise you. I often bring this meal to friends who just had babies!

This is my picture last night of my upside down chicken with our favorite side--roasted broccoli, overconfidence led me to skip the flip o imagine my disappointment when I went to slice it and it was breast-side down!

And my husband making sure I understand exactly how the chicken should be for future reference, can't make this stuff up--

Roasted Pork Butt

So to be honest, I used to always make pulled pork in the crockpot and it grossed me out. The easy recipe for this is to buy a pork butt or shoulder, put it in the crockpot, cover it with water, and cook it on low for 8-10 hours. Drain, then shred the pork and add your bbq sauce. This is totally functional but I am not a fan of cooking meat in water and knew there had to be another way!

Now I cook it in the oven in the dutch oven and it is ahhhh-mazing! Again, very little prep involved. 1. You can sear pork beforehand in your skillet, but I only do that if we're having company over because my family could care less. Or maybe I could care less, who knows! 
2. Put pork in dutch oven with a sliced onion, a can of chicken broth, a few tbs of apple cider vinegar, a glug of worcestershire sauce, and season to your liking. Just make sure pork is not submerged rather the liquid covers HALF the pork
3. Cook for 3-4 hours at 300 degrees and check to see if it's fork tender
4. Serve with mac and cheese or little Hawaiian rolls to make pork sliders! Add sauce if that's your jam, but I've often found it's flavorful enough without it! 

Skillet Pork Chops and Apples

This recipe is from my sweet friend Ashley Warrior. It's quick to prep and we usually have the ingredients on hand. It is a great one to serve to guests, the cooking time definitely varies depending on the size of your pork chops! Here in Iowa we have some BIG ones so when I am cooking this during the week, I use the small, boneless chops to move things along quickly.
1. S & P the pork chops, dredge in flour
2. Heat oil in skillet, cook chops 1-2 min on each side so they're barely golden. Remove from skillet and set aside
3. Add more olive oil to skillet and a few tbs of butter
4. Sauté 3-4 sliced granny smith apples and 1-2 onions, also sliced
5. Add to skillet 1/3 cup worcestershire sauce and 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, black peppercorns if you have them, and a teaspoon of ground mustard
6. When apples and onions begin to cook down, add chops back in, and cook all together until pork chops are done

"The" Salad

I wish I could remember where I got this recipe so I could credit the source, it is the only salad I know how to make and often serve it to company. I am very picky about salad, as I was allergic to lettuce for 10 years and still have some PTSD when it comes to eating it. This is worth making, I promise!
Mix chopped romaine and fresh spinach
Add in feta cheese, sliced apple or pear, bacon crumbles, chopped pecans, and thinly sliced red onion
For the dressing mix 1 part poppyseed dressing to 1 part balsamic vinaigrette (for both we use Newman's Own) 

Easy Crock Pot Meals

I am so hooked on these. They are not super healthy but I usually balance it out by having my breakfast and lunch be only protein/fruit/veggies --unless I drive thru Chick-fil-a then it's nuggests/fries/sauce.

I like to let dinner be anything that is easy and tell my family that I love them through ways other than nutritious food. JUST to redeem myself some-- I will tell you we buy the meat organic from CostCo and all of these can be made gluten free, thank you household wheat allergy!

My favorite part is the clean up. I haven't bought the crockpot liners YET but it is only a matter of time before I go all in as a Domestic Diva. Last night I made chicken fajitas and was planning on cooking them in the skillet per usual but had some extra time while the boys were napping/playing with trains so I just threw all the ingredients in the crockpot on high-- Bam! Love it!

Beef with Pepperacini Peppers

This is from my friend Erica Holland, it is a favorite in our family!
1. Chuck roast
2. Jar of Merzetti thinly sliced Pepperacini Peppers (must be this type and brand otherwise I don't know what will happen to your meal)
3. Package of Good Seasons Italian Dressing (if you accidentally get spicy you are screwed! So hot!)
Add ingredients to crock pot in order listed above and cook on low 6-8 hours. We love it with this rice or in tacos. It is a little spicy and the jar of peppers has a vinegar base so keep that in mind if you have picky eaters. My kids love it though!

Spicy Chicken Alfredo

This recipe is from another gal pal Ashley Butler
1. 4-6 raw chicken breasts
2. 1 can Rotel
3. 1 jar Sundried Tomato Alfredo Sauce
4. Your favorite pasta (I use TJ's GF penne but bowtie would be my preference if I wasn't GF!)
Season chicken however you like (I use some s & p, thyme, garlic salt and oregano), put in crock pot, and pour on Rotel. Cook on low 3-4 hours until chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and then add the alfredo sauce to the crockpot. Boil your bowtie pasta, drain, and stir it into the chicken/sauce mixture. Now it's ready to eat with some fresh green beans to make you feel better about carb loading + garlic bread to remind you that carbs are amazing.

Stuffed Peppers in the Crock Pot

This was great to have waiting for us when we got home from gymnastics this week. Just prep the stuffed pepper mixture like you normally would (we use sautéed onion, ground beef, half a jar of marinara sauce, a pkg of microwaved rice, seasonings) Then clean out the center of the pepper, fill with the meat and rice mixture, arrange in the crock pot, and in the remaining marinara sauce- I added a cup of water as well. Cook on low-- when we got home 4 hours later, the peppers were soft and perfect. Of course added shredded cheese for the kiddos-- and thank you Miss Emmy for dumping your entire plate on the white carpet. Bless.

Sweet Corn Chili 

We've been using this recipe from Mix and Match Mama and it's awesome. We served it to our neighbors last week with cornbread and baked potatoes!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I modify this recipe by eliminating the cream of chicken soup and adding in some seasonings. Any crock pot meal where you can just put the chicken in raw is a life saver to me!

Barbacoa Chuck Roast

Have you tried these sauce and seasoning packets by Rick Bayless? We are hooked on this one and the guacamole mix! I have seen them at Whole Foods, our local grocery store (HyVee), and ordered them on Amazon. You simply buy a chuck roast, add the sauce and an onion-- cook on low and it's wonderful! If you feel healthy you can always eat it with cauliflower rice or be like us and pile on the cheese, sour cream, and guac and serve in tacos! I can't say enough good things about the guacamole mix though, please try it asap with a margarita in my honor!

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas

Whatever chicken breasts we have, I put in the crockpot and season, then cover with BBQ sauce-- a recent favorite is the Carolina Gold flavor at Trader Joes. Cook on low for 4-6 hours until you can shred chicken.

Add chicken and any other ingredients (sliced bell peppers, black beans, roasted corn, etc) to corn tortillas with shredded queso cheese and cook on the skillet. Use butter of course to get the tortillas nice and crispy.
Carmelize some onions too if you really want to make this delicious and wow your peeps with your culinary genius!
If I am feeling super crazy, I put a dollop of sour cream on the plate with chopped green onions on top. This is partly because it looks nice but mostly because I love sour cream and green onions!

Pot Roast in Crockpot

To be honest sometimes this is amazing and sometimes it is so... pot roast.
But it still works when we're in a pinch and I usually have these ingredients on hand!
1. Chuck roast
2. Package of Liptons French Onion dry soup mix
3. Can of Cream of Mushroom soup (Progresso is GF)
4. Assortment of potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, etc
5. Can of beef broth
S & P then sear roast on both sides in a few tbs of oil in cast iron skillet, put in crockpot. While I'm getting everything else ready I turn off the skillet and add a few tbs of butter then soften the onion and garlic before adding it to the crockpot. Layer all the ingredients and cook on low 6-8 hours.
Poor husband-- hot day, hot roast

The Next 3 are Trader Joes Required Recipes:

Shrimp with Butternut Squash Rissoto

1. Buy a 1 lb bag of frozen cooked (seems like an oxymoron but it's an actual thing), large or extra large shrimp or if you're rich-- buy it fresh
2. Frozen Butternut Squash Risotto-- to feed my family, we need 2 bags because the kids love it!
3. Fresh asparagus
First start the asparagus-- toss with olive oil, lemon juice, your favorite seasoning, garlic if you have it. If you have time, roast it at 425 for 10-15 minutes but I just found that in a pinch, you can broil it on low for 5 minutes and it has a similar effect!
Follow directions on risotto package-- is best when cooked in a non stick pan! Takes 5 minutes, no joke!
Defrost the shrimp, dry with paper towel
Add a little olive oil and butter to a skillet, sauté shrimp just a few minutes and add your favorite seasonings and a little lemon juice
It all looks so fancy! Your family will think they're in a five-star restaurant! If I wasn't so lame and allergic to gluten, I would totally service this with some delicious bread too! It all took you 5-10 minutes, not a joke!
Photo Source

Pork Tenderloin with Polenta

1. Buy this Peppercorn/Garlic pork tenderloin
2. Buy the creamy spinach, and carrot polenta (again we need the 2 bags)
Roast the pork according to directions, I like to put little red potatoes and onions in the pan with some olive oil and seasonings
Take the pork out of the oven when finished and while it rests, heat up your polenta!
We eat this with our other favorite side dish-- green beans with bacon because we live in Iowa and are obsessed with pork!
Photo Source: Trader Joe's
Photo Source: Trader Joe's

Here are two other ways I love to cook pork tenderloin, it is such an affordable piece of meat and helps break up the monotony of beef-chicken-fish and helps us forget our commitment to have one vegetarian meal per week
Hoisin Pork Tenderloin
Maple Balsamic Pork Tenderloin originally found in the wonderful book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequest

Carne Asada

1. Cook Carne Asada in cast iron skillet
2.  Remove, slice, add olive oil, an onion and sliced bell peppers to skillet (I buy the frozen, pre-sliced ones from TR's!)
3. Serve with avocado slices in tacos, or use this favorite Jasmine-Pineapple rice recipe to make it into a burrito bowl
Photo Source: Trader Joe's
These next few meals aren't quick, they will take you 20-30 minutes to prep but they are worth it! I'm sharing links but can attest these are tried and true recipes! All of these can be prepped in the morning or the night before.

Spicy Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup: prep ahead of time by getting all your chopping done early in the day then throwing it together and serve with some fresh bread

Chicken Enchilada Casserole: we make this all the time and mix it up by adding in a can of black beans or switching the chicken out with ground beef

Beef Stroganoff Meatballs: I never grew up eating anything "Stroganoff" but comfort food is always one of my go-to's while pregnant. This was delicious and lower in fat than expected! Just subbed out the flour with a GF blend I had on hand

Stuffed Pasta Shells: we use low-fat cheese and double the batch making one pan of spinach shells and one sausage-- a wonderful meal to bring a new mama as well!

White Chicken Chili with Collard Greens: this might be the only healthy Paula Deen recipe I've used but we love it and the greens add a great taste 

I hope you find some of these meals helpful and give them a try. I am no expert in the kitchen at all, just an average, rushed mama trying to make things quick and healthy-ish. I really do love to eat though and since we eat most of our meals at home, this list keeps me sane!
If you liked this post-- read this one on saving/spending at the grocery store 

Baby's First Year: Confessions

The cutting board is always out, with a knife laying nearby waiting for its next item to slice into bite size pieces...

The washing machine constantly runs, as the hungry infant is not patient for the extra 10 seconds it takes to find and put on a bib (that he will throw off asap)...

The broom and vacuum sit in the corner waiting to be used for the third time today, why bother putting them in the closet when there are endless crumbs to catch...

The baby tub waits in the hall bathroom, so that the daily accumulation of avocado and tomato at the back of Archie's neck and behind his ears can be washed off in a few minutes before his nap. A washcloth would be easier but those are all missing, so, whatever...

Meal time with our fresh little one-year-old makes me miss nursing for more than two seconds. Which is super crazy because no offense to God and His Almighty Boob-Plan, but I really hate nursing. Everything about it. **Sorry, not sorry** but eventually buying formula and washing bottle parts always comes as a relief to me.

Back to the present-- "this is just a phase," I remind myself, searching the fridge and freezer for something quick to make into baby-food that didn't come out of a container or a pouch-- even though those are my go-tos for at least one of his three meals/two snacks a day!

My niece is a year older than Archie and while I was pregnant with him, my sister and I would be chatting and she would tell me the different things Harper was doing and I would honestly just cringe. "Ugh, I hated that phase!" I said (to myself, mostly, unless I was having one of my advice giving moments). My sister's experience brought back memories of nursing under kicked off covers (because, not brave), trying to transition to a bottle, figuring out naps, and the constant wondering, "Is this teething, standard drool, or an ear infection?" I looked at my "capable" two and three year old's and felt deeply nervous about the year in front of me that would begin on October 2nd when our 3rd baby was born.

A girlfriend and mama to five girls once told me that she didn't like the first two years of mothering. Sure she adored her babies, but she said she really found her rhythm with her self and her kiddos once each daughter turned two. I looked at Emmy and Mack, who were one and two at the time, and thought to myself, "Well, that sure makes sense!"

Every stage of the infant years totally baffled me. I always felt "surprised" when the baby gave up a nap or stopped being entertained by a beloved toy. I kind of had this sicko us vs. them mentality with my hubby even calling our kids minions and creatures because it felt a lot of times that they were like little wild animals running amuck in our house. Now that Emmy and Mack are three and four, it is much easier to parent them-- in some ways. They can skip a nap, they talk to me (a LOT),  they crack me up, they help around the house, they play together, when they get hurt they help themselves to a bandaid out of the "bandaid drawer" --basically all this points at my own inner striving to make life easier on ME :) Sometimes I wonder why even have kids at all if I savor so deeply the moments they leave me alone!! **Kidding, Not Kidding**

Before Baby #3 was born, I tried to prepare for all the moments that would be hard as I unpacked my breast pump, stocked my nightstand with Larabars --because let's be real, I have a great hubby but he is less of the "breakfast in bed" type and more of the "I'll get up early, make coffee that's too strong, and take the big kids to Bass Pro" type-- and got out all my super cute postpartum clothes.

But the thing for baby #3 that I wasn't prepared for, was Archie himself.

I really have never loved a baby the way I love this little boy. I think any mama can attest you love each of your kiddos the same amount, just differently. It is not that I love him MORE than the other two, most of my obsessive-Archie-feelings stem from the season of life we're in. Things feel really simple right now. We don't have a lot of commitments, every weekend our plans revolve around our little family of five, no obligations or sports events to attend. My husband currently comes home every night, and things just feel really consistent and sweet.

It's not that Archie was that much easier than the first two babies-- yes he was one of those mysterious children I had read about who just laid down and fell instantly to sleep without being rocked or fussed over, he also never cried unless he got hurt which actually worried me more than delighted me because Emmy and Mack were so vocally miserable! We had our fair share of issues like a tongue tie that led to several rounds of mastitis, acid reflux, weird rashes, the usual suspects. But from the beginning, I felt deeply bonded and connected to Archie in a way that I feel like I might have cheated myself out on during the previous infant phases.

I didn't think I would have time to enjoy this baby the way I did the other two because I felt like I would constantly have my head on a swivel and my hands tied running around trying to meet everyone's need. But in most ways, I have MORE time to enjoy him because I am less worried about the food on the floor and the skipped morning nap. I didn't get as frustrated during the middle of the night feedings because I loved seeing his face when he saw me come into his room and knew-- because my older kids now sleep ALL night-- that soon this too shall pass. I coped with the tired days with extra coffee and grace to let my kids watch TV so I could go back to bed in the mornings with the baby. It has become a relaxing pause in my day to have him crawl into my lap with a book or a toy. I love sitting beside him on the floor and teach him to walk.

Archie changed me as a mom. He taught me how to be present, and how to have less anxiety about the phases to come. He made me into one of those wackos that just want to soak up every minute because "it all goes by so fast." Before Archie was born, I heard people say that and secretly thought, "Thank God, let's get these years over with!" I know there were LOTS of times I stopped to adore Emmy and Mack as babies. I can remember sneaking into Emmy's room at night just to watch her sleep, and whispering to Mack over and over again, "Nobody has ever loved a baby the way that I love you."

But I was just so stinking worried all the time. My husband worked out of town and I felt desperate for family and community to rally around us. I obsessed over how they slept and what they ate. I really let those struggles rob me of my joy. I wanted so badly to have my children be well-adjusted and content in the midst of all our moving and change. Sweet little Emmy has already lived in four different houses and three different cities and she isn't even five yet. Those adjustments will come for this baby too, and the next one, but now we're savoring our days even if sometimes I still spend 90% of my day counting down to 8 pm when my house is quiet and I'm next to my husband on the couch-- eating a big bowl of ice cream!

After Archie was born, something clicked for me and it benefited not just my relationship with him but my whole family as well. If Emmy or Mack ask for one-on-one time with me, I find myself saying yes more often-- it is still not A LOT, but I think having more kids makes you value that one-on-one time when you can get it. The last year, it is like I am finally settling into Motherhood and accepting realities like spending all day cleaning up after little people, answering questions and wiping butts.

I DEFINITELY don't think you have to have three kids to have this experience. I think you just have to keep fighting to learn yourself as a mom, learn to love motherhood, and learn to be present. It is not something our culture will teach you. Once you have kids, welcome to the club! You're a mom! But that doesn't mean you automatically love each phase no matter how much you love that little baby. And that is okay. It is more than okay. I think if we are all really honest with each other, we will find that it is actually normal to struggle with all the adjustments raising children bring.

It really took me years to learn to love being a stay-at-home mom. I have shared this before, it is just not something I envisioned for my life. It actually never crossed my mind! Even after our daughter was born, I thought my time at home with her would be temporary. Once Mack was born and it seemed like, wow, this is going to be the next 18 years, I basically went through a season of shock, bitterness, and now joyful acceptance of the daily rhythms that ebb and flow as a stay-at-home mama.

I cannot stress more that it's not that I have become BETTER at being a mom. I am definitely not any more capable of raising kids than I was when Emmy was born. I still google everything and feel overwhelmed and anxious MANY times throughout the day. I could write a whole separate post on how this season has been one of the hardest of my lives. But there has just been this beautiful shift in my perspective-- after fighting for four years to really learn to love the phase of life I'm in, I mostly and wonderfully do.

*Fun Fact-- At Emmy's 1st birthday, I was 6 months pregnant with Mack-- as I am now with Baby #4, cheers to babies being born 14 months apart!*

Why Moms give Unsolicited Advice

As with 90% of my blog posts, this thought train comes out of a conversation with my best friend Betsy. Thankfully we are constantly catching ourselves doing annoying things and laughing about it with each other. We probably only have a few more years of self-awareness before we're just downright ridiculous. Bless. Betsy reminds me every day that you don't have to live close by, or have quiet kids because ours are for real the LOUDEST (hers are worse) to maintain a great friendship.

Here is a little flashback montage of Betsy and I, we worked for a campus ministry together so there was a LOT of dressing up for theme nights-- which are a clean version of a sorority social!

And one picture of us looking normal, just as a reference
One of the drawbacks in talking on the phone with people is that you avoid it because it has been TOO long and there is TOO much to say and we all have NO time. Find a Betsy! Restrike up a friendship with an old friend that you can talk to for 3 minutes, where most of the conversations start with: "Listen to this..." and end with your children slapping each other or needing their butts wiped.

Today I told Betsy that I have started noticing I do this super annoying thing, I give a lot of unsolicited advice. For instance, a great friend came to visit a few weeks ago and I could not stop offering my opinion on things. What the best diaper brand is, how to sleep train, my newest recipe for baked chicken, why I stopped wearing flip flops (no time for pedicures!), where to buy the best almonds. Who even knows what I was talking about half the time?! I couldn't stop!

If you have ever been in a group of women, particularly parents, you might notice that person, the outspoken lady who has her two cents to say about every topic. Having become that sort of person myself, I would nothing more than to tell you why some people can't keep their thoughts to themselves! Because that is my new M.O.

I'll start by sharing an example and a chance to give you a piece of advice. Last week I tried a recipe that was awesome-- baked apples by a favorite blogger Mix and Match Mama. I bought an apple corer 2 years ago and finally had a little bit of motivation to use it as this recipe sounded so easy. No added sugar (aside from maple syrup) and all the ingredients were in my cupboard: apples, oatmeal, pecans and raisins. My kids helped me without creating a mini-food tornado in the kitchen, and it tasted amazing. It was even safe for my baby to eat and he gobbled it up.

Being home alone with the kids, I sometimes don't even notice how desperate I feel to share life with another adult. My husband can only get THIS MUCH excited about the baked apples I made 8 hours ago-- and didn't save any for him,--when he walks through the door at night. No other adult was in the room with me to chime in and say, "Wow, Ally you really nailed this recipe! How nice of you to try something new for the joy of your children!" Instead I got 3 and 4-year-old feedback like, "Why is it mushy? This makes me thirsty for milk! Mackie got more than me! I dropped mine on my shirt!"

Since I have all the time in the world for self-reflection, sarcasm! --I see that for me, my advice giving comes out of a desire to really connect with other women and not knowing how. Rarely am I listened to around the house. I spend all day figuring out laundry systems and mastering crockpot meals with no one to share my hard won victories with. It takes 10 conversations to make my 3-year-old aware that I'm asking him to pick-up his toys. My daughter takes great joy in doing the same things over and over again that I've asked her not to do, especially picking up the baby! And Archie is oblivious to my voice except when I mention the words "dada" or "bottle" so really I am 0/3 for active listening in my house.

Spending your day issuing unfollowed instructions gets a little old, but ah, such is parenting. It is a new world to interact with others who might not only listen to you but also respect and glean "wisdom" from your thoughts!

This advice heaping definitely was not true about me with baby #1. I was the ultimate advice SEEKER. I read books, I texted friends, I googled all day and all night. Now that we have 3.5 kids, I am for real no more confident. The view that moms with more kids have it more together is a total joke. If anything, we are more clueless because the differences in our kids baffle us and just leave us with more questions than answers! My quest to share things with the world is totally not coming out of a place of pride and confidence, it is much more a desire to engage with other women and actually hear my own voice.

Surely, God is with me, helping me create a life for my family and championing my every move. He holds mamas like in high regard, scoffing at the world's lowly view of the housewife and using our tinniest sacrifices in ways that seem mostly invisible. His promise to use me is a soothing balm to my anxious worries that I'm not a good enough mom, that there is no point in cleaning messes that will be made again, and that my kids will be selfish and whiny until the end of time.

But too, I think God might understand that sometimes--  we just want to be good at something. We need a little win, and a pat on the back. Since nobody is going to pull you aside at the end of the quarter and give you a raving peer-review, offer you a year-end bonus, give you an office "perk", or tell you you got a promotion and bonus, I tend to settle for sharing things on social media and hoping friends engage me with comments and likes.

I forget that there is no replacement for instead being that soft place to land for another friend, being the one to listen and not judge, to receive her worries and concerns and help her carry her burdens through a little encouragement and a sympathetic ear. When I imagine the type of friend I long to be and am working towards, I think of a person who is at peace with all her frettings and failures and has learned to silence them in order to better hear the ones she loves.

But for now, I am still taking the unsolicited advice route-- if I don't stop myself soon, I can totally see myself as one of the older ladies hovering around small children at the grocery store, reminding mothers how quickly it all passes-- and shouldn't that baby be wearing socks? It is a good reminder that those women often aren't judging you, they are doing their best to connect in an otherwise lonely world. Perhaps you are the only person that will interact with them that day so please smile, give a nod, and if they ask you in a sassy tone: "Are all of those children really yours," cheerfully smile and tell them you and your husband just have a lot of sex!

Long Car Trips with Littles!

Let me preface this by saying, I love driving. I grew up in Chicago, but attended college in Charleston, SC so I made the 14 hour drive back and forth a couple times a year. I love the freedom, the independence, the scenery (except for Indiana, no offense). I love being able to tune out, listening to my favorite podcast, my audible app, or book on tape-- I once drove 14 hours to Charleston, but sat in my car for an EXTRA HOUR once arriving because I was finishing up the 7th Harry Potter book on cd, I mean... who wouldn't!?

So I already don't think it's a big deal to make long treks, adding the kids has certainly changed things but seeing my family is really important to me. Driving 6 1/2 hours to Chicago (even though with Archie who loves to pretend he's hungry, but then laughs at me instead of taking his bottle-- it actually takes us 8 hours) is worth it no matter what transpires during the car trip. We make this drive every month in the Summer, and about every 6 weeks in the Fall/Winter. I am always wondering how things will change when we add another kiddo to our brood this January. I already am anticipating that we will never leave the house, Lord help me, please come visit us!

Another reason for our frequent trips is my husband works a lot, maybe I have mentioned this before? I call it my "Martyr Banner" that I love to wave around! The point is, he has crazy hours, and even though it depresses him to come home to an empty house at night, I crave community and connection that I can't always find at home during this season of our lives. We are at peace with that, and get creative with finding outlets that refresh us. The family that waits for me in Chicago offering to baby-sit might be a big incentive for these long trips! And also getting my hair highlighted is a TOP priority during this season of my life, because um, one must look dignified at CostCo and the preschool drop-off/pick-up. I leave the kids with my mother-in-law, and get to spend all morning turning blonde at the salon, saving my baby-sitter money for a REAL crisis-- like having to go to the post office.

I know, it's hard to believe I could ever leave this face for days at a time
Hopefully without being too cavalier, I am relating driving with kids to the 5 stages of Grief.
The similarities must be spotlighted:

1. Denial (pulling out of the driveway)-- 
You have loaded the car, everyone has gone to the bathroom, the sun is shining and the snacks have been portioned out. The car is organized, the children are singing, there is the promise of an unseen dvd you just checked out from the library on the horizon. You downloaded a new podcast, your phone is fully charged and your headphones are within reach (note: headphones are illegal, but essential. Do not judge, or tattle).

You falsely believe this trip is going to go smoothly, your kids look at you with hope and encouragement, they are so excited to embark on this journey! They cannot wait to do all the fun things you have promised them! They have no idea they have to wait 8 hours to go to the park with Papa and have that special dinner Nana made them. It's only 9 in the morning and you will not be there until dinner time, but use the cheery voice and don't look at that ETA on your GPS!

Smile on, Archie, it's gonna be a great day!
Someone dropped something but that's okay, you will pull off onto the exit ramp to get it for them, you are so sure this is the only time this car trip you will have to do that. Whatever they need!

2. Anger (3 hours in)--
The snacks are gone (because they got spilled all over the car) you can't find anything in that massive pile of crap in the passenger seat. You went to grab a pacifier for the baby and put your hand in mashed banana. Someone is crying because the dropped a toy they MUST have that you CANNOT reach. You just stopped, but they have to go to the bathroom again.

Most frustratingly, you are ALL OUT OF ALL THE WORDS. You cannot even believe you have 5 more hours of this.

At this point you have also done at least one stop, unless you're a driving rockstar then don't pass go, don't pull over, no drive thru, keep at it mama! Stops kill me. I would rather do anything than stop. We used to be so quick! 2 kids! What a breeze! Now by the time everyone has gone to the bathroom, we purchased snacks, and Archer drank his bottle, THEY NEED TO GO AGAIN. This happens to me all the time! Usually they only completed 1/2 of the potty options and require ANOTHER trip back inside. I die! Here is where I beg my well-potty-trained kids to wear pull-ups, the disgrace!

3. Bargaining (4 hours in)-- These are some of the lower moments of my parenting. It's called The Zone of Compromise, where you make a choice that is not sanitary or that may come up later when your kids go to therapy.

This is the stage where I may say things like:
"I am so sorry that you peed your pants, but your baby brother is napping and we are unable to stop because he spent the last hour crying himself to sleep. I will give you my shirt so that you can dry yourself off the best you can."

"Please watch this dvd I put on for you! When we stop, I will let you choose any candy you want if you do not ask me again how long this car ride is!"

"That is so sad to me that your dress fell into the toilet. No, you can't walk through the gas station naked. Please wear this hoodie of mine until we get to the car!" To to which my 4-year-old cried, "But why do I have to cover up my chest, Mama? I don't even have ta-ta's!"
Loving Life!
During this stage, you may do things that you did not know you were capable of...

I may [or may not, depending on how grossed out you are] have taught myself to pee in a cup when Emmy and Mack were both babies. Marginal spills occurred. The idea of taking a baby in a carseat carrier, AND holding the hand of 14 month old who could barely walk into a gas station to use the restroom COMPLETELY overwhelmed me. Since they were both in diapers and didn't need toilets, I learned this skill and would pull over (out of sight of the truckers, always the lady that I am!), take care of business, throw it in the trash, and we literally never go out of the car during what was back then a 5 hour car trip to my mom and mother-in-law's!

To keep a toddler baby happy, I also have handed out ridiculous, age-inappropriate snacks like leftover spaghetti squash in a tupperware. This was back when we were strictly following the paleo diet and on my way out the door, I just grabbed whatever I could find in the fridge!

4. Depression-- (5-7.5 hours inthis trip will never end. The rest of my life I will be in this car listening to the Little Mermaid play on repeat. These kids will never stop fussing. We have HOURS to go, I have used up my caffeine allotment for the day, and I am starving too!

One thing that helps me when things look really dark is my refusal to answer the "Are we there yet, how much longer question?" This falls under my "I do not negotiate with terrorists" mantra. They are starting to ask that, and I am sticking firm to my: "I'm sorry, I do not answer that question. We get there when we get there!" Which actually takes WAY longer to say then "30 minutes," ha! But I am hoping this will benefit me in the long run.

5. Acceptance-- (tbd, based on your capacity for chaos this may never come) Here is where the ear phones really come in handy.

I love this throwback photo!
At this point, you  might not want any tips from me, but here are some anyways!

1. We love this lap table. It is soft but firm enough for them to color on. It also has ridges to keep toy trucks, markers, and snacks from rolling off. You simply buckle it around the back of the carseat.

2. I think it's easier to drive with the kids in their jammies, and slip-on shoes. Because they inevitably take them off, it makes for a quicker transition to get out of the car for stops.

3. I try to do a mix of snacks with at least one sweet treat but then some extra protein. My kids love beef jerky, cheese sticks, and almonds. They know that mom chooses their "treats" when we stop. Everyone also gets a sippy cup that is half filled with water.

4. After a trip where BOTH toddlers had an accident, I keep wipes, a change of underwear, and extra pants close by so I don't have to open the trunk and have suitcases fall on me!

5. We we stop for lunch (almost always a Chick-fil-a) I let them run around and play for a while, then get our meal to-go and eat in the car. I don't want to waste valuable bathroom-going-time by sitting at a table eating. If it is a "quick" stop, I challenge whoever isn't using the potty to a round of calisthenics! "Do 10 jumping jacks, I yell! Now touch your toes 5 times. Show me how high you can jump!"

6. I always have our stops planned out, since our route is familiar to us, I can time everything based on crankiness and starvation levels! This helps as I can explain to the kids what to expect before they get out of the car.

7. If you have the extra time, it is worth it to stop at a park! Last time we stopped at a lake with a playground and had a great walk about 5 hours into our trip. Everyone got fresh air and the baby even slept the last few hours! Although that day we left Chicago at 9 am and rolled into our house at 7pm, it still felt good to have done something else besides sit in the car all day!

8. Driving alone with little ones can seem daunting, but it some ways it is easier than traveling with my husband. The kids know I'm inaccessible so I am not coerced out of my seat every like some bendable ballerina every few minutes to get a dropped toy or pass back a snack.

This of course is NOT true when you have a nursing baby! I loved having Michal with me (for his companionship #1) because he would take the big kids into get a snack and go potty while I nursed Archie in the front seat. By the time they got back, I would be done and pass him the baby to change (we like to do this on the front seat of the car with our portable changing mat, I still do this even though Archie is huge because the bathroom changers gross me out! Such varying standards from the lady who pees in a cup!) then I could run in unaccompanied to use the potty myself.

9. I have tried leaving every time of the day, and for us, mornings are best. I pack the car the night before and then grab the rest of the essentials in the morning, giving them about an hour to run around and get out some energy before we head out. If Mike is with me, we leave at night which I LOVE because we can turn off the dvd player, listen to music, and actually talk. Mack has never slept in the car so he will chat us up until 1 am or so!

10. If you hate driving, you will probably hate driving with kids. Find a buddy or just fly if you can swing it! I think it is just a preference issue so don't feel guilty if this isn't your jam!

Like all parenting things, part of the day I am thinking to myself, "I got this! We can do anything! This is so fun! My kids are awesome!" followed immediately by moments where someone announces "Mommy... I think I am going to throw up" as we drive past a NO EXIT FOR 40 MILES sign. Such is the life!

You Know You Be Livin' in the Country If...

We have been "enjoying" our isolation from civilization for the last year. A lot of these observations about country life might seem dramatic, but keep in mind I have never lived in a city that had less than 200,000 people. We had a brief stint in Pella, Iowa but that place is kind of like a small-town dreamland. Picture: windmills, a perfectly manicured square, it is illegal to mow your grass on Sundays (noise violation!), and it is pretty much out of the movie Pleasantville --in a good way, because we are BASIC and like stuff like that.

Now we are legit rural people, our town is less than 3,000 and that is big compared to the surrounding ones. The main struggle is we are missing the BIG THREE, my requirements for all the joys and happiness:

1. Coffee Shop
2. Target with a coffee shop
3. Mexican food

There is a lot to love about the town we're in. The people are wonderful, and it really is scenic as we're in the Loess Hills, which is this cool area where the dirt has settled into these beautiful hills.
Country rooooooad, Take me hoooooome
Being a new country gal, here are a few ways to know if you live in the country:
  • It constantly seems like the woods are trying to take over your house.
Can you spot the Mike doing his weekly sweep of leaves and cobwebs off the roof?

My funny husband told me the other day that it reminds him of a documentary he watched of Chernobyl (and I am wondering when the heck was that because I have only seen you watch the fishing channel and weirdo hunting dvd's where all the grown men WHISPER). He said once the town was abandoned, trees started growing through the middle of buildings. We are days away from that here.

This is our backyard "garden" just a few feet from our house. I love the view from my family room windows of the poison ivy and poison oak vines drooping down, really gives it that something special. 

After hearing my complaints, last weekend Mike started hacking at all the poison vines with the electric weedeater, sending poison ivy blowing through the air like a dust storm while the kids and I played on the patio. This is real life people. I was yelling at him and stomping my feet, per usual, but he couldn't hear me over the motor. I rushed the kids inside before they inhaled poisonous dust particles and ruined their lungs forever. Terrified by my panicked yells at their father, they were crying and asking me why daddy was being so naughty!

His response? "Well, I'm not allergic to it." It really is every man for himself out here. Wild west I tell ya.

  • You call the previous homeowners to ask them where the trash cans are and they laugh at you, saying, "Oh honey, you gotta go down to the Walmart and buy those yourself!"

"So who comes and picks up the trash?" A valid question from the suburbanite.

"You've got to hire somebody to do it, there are some local guys in town that have a truck."

City girl be like whaaaat?

Also there is no recycling pick-up out here which makes me super sad-- we have an entire closet dedicated to cardboard and plastic. Which fills up until my hubby gets frustrated and drives it to the "Recycling Center" in town (aka a blue dumpster)

Turn left down a dirt road and you see these happy neighbors!

This was my favorite view every morning on the way to preschool, there are 3 white horses the kids and I love to watch
  • You tell your husband you think you hear "a" bat in the garage and he gleefully informs you that there is a very large BAT FLOCK taking up residence in your garage to nap between sunrise and sunset. "But they're so great at getting rid of mosquitoes!" he says. Your kids become proficient at bat noises.

They like to screech at me when I take out the trash.
  • You can pee off the front porch and none of your neighbors can see you (3 out of 4 members of my household have done this. I'll leave you guessing on who). 

This also applies to getting to wear your leopard-print-bathrobe when you go get the mail. Cars do pass by our house often on their way to town, but thankfully we can hear them coming and I have time to make a mad dash for coverage. Due to my slow, postpartum sluggish run (go too fast and I'll start to pee), I've been caught twice. 

  • The closest Target and grocery store are 30 miles away so every time you go, you stock up like it is the APOCALYPSE. You also can almost never buy ice cream (too far) and have to put all your perishables in the cooler you keep in your trunk!

  • You wave at every car you pass, just in case you know them. My neighbors probably think I'm super bipolar. When we first moved out here, I assumed the 20 houses or so that I could see were the only people using these back roads. So I waved at every car I passed, assuming each person would recognize my car as the "new neighbor" and I didn't want to get labeled as unfriendly! Little did I know, there was a network of back roads leading to probably another 100 rural houses belonging to people who drove past our house all the time. So I gave up the waving campaign and settled for a "Oh, I didn't see you" reply when people mention they drove past me and I didn't notice! 
This little guy was attracted to my dust-free baseboards
  • When you talk to people in town, your neighborhood is referred to as "out in the..." as, "oh, you live out in the dips?" Extra bonus if people call where you live the "dips" because then you're just cool. 
    In the winter, there were 8-10 deer that came through our front yard every night to eat all my dead weeds
  • Everyone knows where you live, even if you haven't met them yet. This happens every time I call someone for a repair, because also, #countrylife there are lots. 3 weeks ago it was the AC/Furnace, last week it was the water softener, this week our underground septic tank "smells funny." Each time I find the listing, call, and before I even give out my neighborhood or address the serviceman says, "Yep, I know where you live. I drive by your house all the time." Oh thank you. That does not make me feel any more secure living in the middle of nowhere with no visible neighbors. It took me only one month of living out here to get us a legit security system! 

Visiting our cousins' chickens: Luvie, Dylan, and Chickaletta
  • Stray cats. Rosie is our 5th. Don't ask me about cats one through four, emotions. Every time a new one showed up, I posted on our town's swap page advertising the missing cat that turned up at my back door, solidifying my status as weird new girl in town who didn't understand the feral cat system. Then I realized all the cats are ownerless, there is a nomad pack that prowl the woods roaming from house to house until they're picked off by coyotes, bobcats, or mountain lions (oh, my). This made me second guess Emmy's love to treat the cats like babies and push them in her doll stroller. But then I forgot to warn her about fleas and cat scratch and let the play continue. 
RIP Huck and Sawyer

Rosie was afraid of us her first few days here and sat on this rafter. Mack was terrified and we had to run to our car with our hands over our heads for a week #notcatpeople #dontpooponme

I was afraid of her because I couldn't tell if she had a black nose or was missing half of her face #catfight #literally
Feeling at home now and soaking up the afternoon sun in our flower garden
For real I am grateful for our home and this experience. I would love to see our kids grow up in a small town! The first night we slept in this house, I felt so loved by God who provided this home for us. I love seeing the fireflies light up the woods at night and hear the train whistles echo through town. The verse Psalm 18:18 comes to my mind a lot: "The Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me." The slower pace here and getting to see my husband everyday has been so healing for my marriage and redeeming for my crazy parenting methods. Except in the winter. Then shit really hits the fan and as mentioned previously, I for real feel like I'm in the book The Shining. 

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