Friday, October 5, 2018

Ex-Boyfriends and the Blood of Jesus

A couple months ago I flew to Colorado, to be there to support and help my parents for the art and music event they were having.
It was one of the first times in a while that I had been back there without my husband and kids, which made it easy to feel all of the nostalgia (and, consequently, regret) that comes with being back in the city where I spent so many of my formative years.

One of the days before my parent's event, my mom and I were running errands to get all that we needed for the reception. On our way into the entrance of the grocery store by her house, a guy walked out of the store and said "Hey, you want this cart?"
My mom said "Yeah thanks", took it, and they walked their separate directions.

And there I stood, almost frozen, watching this random and casual hand-off between my mom and MY EX-BOYFRIEND.

He was right there. Two feet in front of me.
They didn't recognize each other and he didn't notice me.

I just stood there, like an idiot. Wide-eyed and motionless, all of my quick-wit and flair for on-the-fly conversation making were suddenly GONE LIKE THE WIND.
I watched him walk away, and not a single sound came out of my open mouth to stop him.

I staggered into the store behind my mom. "That was David!" I said.

"What? Seriously?!" We were both befuddled. What are the odds?

We went about our shopping, but I was still shaken. Why couldn't I just say something?

I don't know even know what I would have said.
It's been almost ten years since we met. It was at an Irish pub that he bartended at, where I was drinking with friends. (Under age, mind you! HOW CLASSY IS THAT?!)
He liked me from the interaction we had that night, looked me up, and I agreed to go on a date with him. We dated for a few months and enjoyed each other's company, until I eventually broke up with him. Twice, actually.
(Quick Pearl Of Wisdom: Getting back together with someone who you've already dumped for legitimate reasons is generally not wise.)
(And if you need me to needlepoint that on a pillow for you, I will.)

But the bottom line was that he loved me and although I cared for him, I didn't love him back. And that's a crappy feeling to walk away with.

The pit in my stomach that seeing him again brought stayed there for a couple weeks.
I mentally kicked myself for not saying anything. But what would I say?
Hi! How are you? Sorry I broke your heart! Bye! I don't know.. SOMETHING!

I went back to Colorado a month later, and when my dad and I happened to go to the same grocery store as before, I found myself looking around for him. I don't know why... it's not like he works there. I think I was just looking for a second chance.
But I didn't see him and I didn't get that chance.

I came home, still feeling annoyed with myself over this missed opportunity, and I cried out to God.

"Ugh. Why didn't I just say something??"

And what I felt from the Holy Spirit and His Word was this:

"Why do you need to? Why are you trying to earn forgiveness for something I've already paid for?"

Just like Jesus would.
Piercing our hearts in the hard places that He wants to break and heal back stronger.
And He was absolutely right. I wanted to tie up loose ends that weren't in my power to tie up and maybe weren't ever meant to be.

I saw this guy and just let myself feel haunted again by all the regret and shame.
It was regret that I dated him even though I never intended to marry him, and that my selfishness and boredom hurt someone. I had been hurt before in much similar circumstances, by someone who was bored and selfish and didn't love me the way I loved him. So I knew that pain and didn't want to feel guilty about being the one that caused it this time.
It was the regret and sadness that I spent those years of my life running from God (not that you can actually do that.) That I used drinking, smoking, pills, and the constant company of men to anesthetize the cloud of depression I lived in, the brokenness in my home, and the hurt I felt from the Church instead of crying out to Him daily and letting His Word make me whole. (And finding a Christian community that actually was safe.)

After years and years of His intervening grace on my life, He's made me a very different person than I was back then. New, even. He has healed and forgiven so much brokenness and shame, has softened my hard heart, and is continually growing me in what it looks like to give my burdens to Him DAILY. And He has used the Church to heal my wounds from the Church.
Even though I barely recognize the Old Elise, God still loves me too much to let me have a moment with an ex-boyfriend that could tempt me to feel like I get to earn some of my redemption. He gets all of the glory for the work He's done in my life, as it should be.

I was talking with someone recently about our human inclination to feel like part of the process of healing is to forgive ourselves from past sin.
But the fact is that WE JUST CAN'T. No matter how hard we try.
We have no ability to forgive ourselves for the sin of our hearts and our bodies and our words, because it's not a debt against ourselves and we haven't actually paid for it.

The debt was against God. And not us, but Jesus, paid for it. And His blood was enough to cover it all.

That, my friends, is the sweet sound of amazing grace.

I think sometimes we hate grace. Because we feel too good for it and our pride loves to feel like we've earned as much and deserve even more. Or because that same pride makes us feel like we're too bad and too ugly and too far gone to be saved. Like our darkness is somehow stronger than His light.

But His light is stronger. The nails in His hands were necessary. And His Blood was enough.

It was enough to wipe our slate clean.
It was enough to free us from our chains, the ones in our past and ones we still hold onto.
It was enough to make us new.

As painful and uncomfortable as it can be, I'm so thankful that He lets us feel the need for Him in our lives. And that He is so faithful to remind us of and flood us with His grace over and over again.

It's time for me to move on, feel free to join me.
We don't need to be hung up on the past anymore. If anything, we use it to display how beautifully stronger His light is than our darkness.
We can ask Him if there's anything we need to do or change or anyone we need to repent to, and then beyond that.. it's all Him.
We wash our face and look forward and trust that He will redeem it and that it's all been paid for.

Because His blood was enough.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; 
behold, the new has come.
2 Cor 5:17

Friday, September 28, 2018

Current Faves: Pumpkin Spice Edition

Hello and Happy Fall! 

If you've read any of my last few posts, you know that life has gotten a little heavy for us as of late.
It's definitely felt like a lot to face and deal with all at once, but God has been so good and so faithful to carry us through it.
And we've also officially entered the best season of the calendar year, which seems like a timely reminder to enjoy some of the beauty of life in the midst of the storm.

I'm writing this from Colorado, while I help take care of my mom after the hysterectomy she had a couple days ago and to make sure that my dad doesn't starve to death.
Even though cancer isn't anyone's preferred reason to make travel plans, it's already been so great to spend time with my family and take in the stunning mountain scenery again. The timing couldn't be more perfect to have a quiet weekend away to take a breath and recharge.

And while I'm doing so, I wanted to share some of the most recent things that have been bringing me joy, even amidst all the craziness:

1.) My new Shark DuoClean Vacuum

Confession: The vacuum that Luke and I had been using for our entire marriage was one that he had gotten as a housewarming gift DURING COLLEGE. Just to give you an approximate time frame of how long ago my husband was 19 years old, this was pretty much The Original Vacuum Cleaner. It was huge and heavy and dirty and barely sucked anything up. After years of lugging this thing around my house, I had so much resentment in my heart towards it that it was time to finally upgrade.

We went with a Shark, because of how many friends and family have and absolutely rave about them. And let me just say- they were not wrong! I LOVE THIS THING.
Here's why:
-It's super lightweight (under 10 pounds)
-The suction and cleaning power is incredible, it actually pulls you forward a little bit when you have it on the highest setting, which is impressive for something so compact.
-The swivel head makes it very easy to maneuver around and underneath furniture.
-The duo brush system vacuums every surface, so between the two power levels it offers, I basically do my entire house in one fell swoop- including the hardwood floors, linoleum, tile, rugs, and high pile carpets.
-It has a quart-sized dirt bin, which could not be any easier to remove, empty, and put back. Which I do often, because it sucks SO much dirt up.
-It easily detaches from the floor pedal and the stick, and becomes a handheld vacuum- working great for ceilings, upholstery, and curtains.
-It's quiet and has LED lights in front to highlight any unseen dirt and particles on the floor.

I am absolutely smitten with this vacuum and will pretty much find any excuse to use it.
 I feel like someone who has come out of a really horrible relationship, but who has a new found love that makes me feel good about myself and life again. Swoon.

And YOU TOO can dump your bad vacuum boyfriend and find true love again!
Get it on Amazon HERE.

2.) Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

Meet my new Netflix obsession.

Jerry Seinfeld hosts this amazingly original series which is sort of a hybrid of a talk show, that almost has a 'Making Of' Featurette feel to it, with a little bit of Top Gear thrown in.

In each episode (which range anywhere from 10-30 minutes, there's pretty much no consistency) Jerry picks out a classic car (that usually pairs with the personality of whoever his guest is), picks them up in it and they drive around and go get coffee.
That's it.
They do anything and talk about anything they want! They get serious, they joke around, they connect over food and movies and family and the life of comedy- nothing is off limits or predictable.
It just has this whimsically unscripted and weirdly down-to-earth feel, that I find so charming and appealing.

I was never really a watcher of Seinfeld, nor have I seen his stand-up, but after this show-I am just a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld. He is so good at connecting with and having fun with all of these fellow actors and comedians, I think partially because this is his own little project, so he only has guests on that he actually likes and finds interesting! So there's this factor of authenticity that you just rarely see in any sort of talk show.
You can tell that he has so much respect and appreciation for all different types of comedy and characters, and is so good at perceiving and encouraging others in their specific talents.
One of my favorite things about him is how hyper-observant he is to all of the tiny little nuances and details that make for being funny. He's so genuinely entertained by all of his guests, that the laughter and fun they have together is just contagious.
So while I don't think that this is one of those shows that's going to necessarily be everyone's cup of tea, I think if you appreciate those things, you'll love it as much as I do.

Some of my favorite episodes were the ones with Will Ferrel, Tina Fey, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Stephan Colbert, Norm Macdonald.... gosh there's just so many. 

Watch some of those and get back to me. I don't think you'll regret it.

4.) My New Kitchen Shelves

A year or two ago, I went over to my friend Stephanie's house, where she showed me an entire wall in her upstairs loft that she had turned into a library with huge industrial pipe shelving. Yes, the library itself was all very wonderful, blah blah blah, but what I became immediately obsessed with were the incredibly cool shelves that all of these books were on. I started dreaming and planning where I could incorporate shelves like that into my house, and decided that the big wall in my kitchen would be perfect.

I love them so much.
They are each 5 feet long and 8 inches deep, giving me a ton of room to hold all of the decor and kitchen accessories that I want.
I bought the wood boards and the pipes from Menards (although they're both available for around the same price at Home Depot too) and spray painted the pipes black to give it the look I wanted.
I stained the wood with Minwax Dark Walnut (which is, in my opinion, the Beyonce of wood stains.)

As far as the decor goes, I got the plant and white pitcher at Ikea and the giant EAT letters from Hobby Lobby.
(Psst! They're actually CARDBOARD letters that I spray painted metallic! It cost less than half of would it would have if I had bought the actual metal ones, which cost around $30 per letter. And I'm giving you permission to be a cheater like me.)

This adorable scale was my present to myself last week from Chip and Jo's line at Target Hearth and Home. It's classic, it's functional, and it's only 15 bucks. Sold!
The cookbook stand that has kitchen conversions on it is actually from the Target Dollar Spot right now! 3 dollars. Yes it is. Go get yourself one.

I just love the versatility of these shelves. I feel like they could work with so many decor styles and different rooms of a house. I actually have a small one in our guest room and am planning on adding one to the bathroom as well. I'll probably need an intervention at some point or they'll be on every wall!

3.) Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake Mix

I was raised in a pancake family.
Pancakes have always been my dad's thing to make, to the point where he's even well known for it outside of our family. He has his own special recipe, always made from scratch, so I don't think I was actually aware that pre-made pancake mixes existed until I was a teenager. (I'll go ahead and pull my 'I was raised in Europe' card for that one too though.)
So obviously there is a little bit of pancake snobbery here that I was always bound to have when raised this way and I prefer them made from scratch.
HAVING SAID THAT, these pumpkin pancakes are amazing. I've actually made pumpkin pancakes from scratch before but prefer this mix. They're thick and fluffy and the perfect blend of spices to enjoy on a fall morning. And if you want to elevate them to an even fancier level, top them with a blend of apple butter and mascarpone cheese. To die for.

A box runs around $1.99 and is now available at Trader Joe's until the season ends, so get them quick!

That's all for now, I hope you can find as much joy in these as I have and that you are loving Fall with wild abandon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fosterhood: Too Attached

Two months ago we met a baby in a hospital.

She had been in the NICU going through withdrawal from all of the drugs she had been exposed to in the womb, but once she was through the worst of it, we were able to take her home.
We have all been totally smitten with this beautiful little girl and have adored every day and sleepless night that we've had with her. We've prayed for her every day, that God would fiercely protect her and that she would come to know Him someday. 
And we prayed that she could be a part of our forever family.

But in the foster system, nothing is for certain and anything can change in an instant. 
A relative of hers came out of the woodwork and wanted to have her. They cleared the background checks and that was that.

Yesterday her social worker came to get her. She left and I probably won't ever see her again.

And as I packed away bins of baby stuff and moved an empty bassinet out of my room, my heart was broken from disappointment. Because I love that baby girl like one of my own. And more than anything, I wanted to be her mom.


People say to me all the time "Oh I could never do foster care, I would get way too attached!"
And what I always gently say is this:

The point is to get too attached.

You SHOULD get too attached.

What these kids need, what ANY OF US need, is for someone to love us with everything in them to the point where it actually hurts. Becoming a foster parent is basically signing up to be that someone for children who desperately need it.
If I could make the decision over again, to say yes or no to taking in this baby who we all fell in love with and who made our hearts hurt like this, I still wouldn't change a thing.

These kids in the foster system, and their parents who are broken and hurting, are made in the image of God and are so, so valuable.

I've shed many tears over this little girl, for fear for her future and sadness that I'll always miss her and that I won't get the memories I thought I would with her. 
Because she is valuable and worth crying tears over.

I've shed many tears over her mother, for what she's already been through so early in life and just imagining the pain of being a post-partum addict out on the streets.
Because she is valuable and worth crying tears over.

And then I think If I care this much about them, how much MORE does God, their maker, care for them? 

As much as I wanted this baby girl to grow up in our home, where I knew she would have a mother who loved her and an amazing dad who would be loving and protective... God will always be a better parent to her than Luke and I could ever dream of being. And unlike us, He will ALWAYS be with her, no matter whose home she is in.

We're trusting God in this, even though it's so hard. It's one of those really confusing times in life where it's so easy and natural to wonder what His plan in this is. How could this be what is best? But faith wouldn't be faith if we could see everything in front of us and knew how it was all going to turn out. 
We are leaning on truths like Romans 8:28 while we wrestle with the uncertainty. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

This will work together for good. And for a purpose. And God's glory will shine brightly in it.


Being a foster parent isn't just about being willing to share your time and money, it is just as much about being willing to share your heart and soul.
It's beautiful and painful and will wreck your life.
But I truly believe that it wrecks our lives for the better.

When we are giving each one of these kids a piece of our own heart, it is basically an exchange- we hurt more so that they can hurt a little less. 
And there is nothing that represents God and His love for us more than that. He IS that one who has loved us so much that it actually hurt.
There is no one who has shed these tears or felt this pain more than Him, who gave up HIS OWN SON to bleed out and die for us, so that we could be His children too.

We NEED Him for this job, because it's only when our heart is so overflowing with His love and His grace and His strength that we are able to share it with others, let alone hurting kids and broken families.
We love because He first loved us.
And we hope because He has promised to redeem all of it.

Luke and I are both so incredibly thankful that we got these past couple months with this beautiful baby girl. We gave her up knowing that she has had such a good start to life (in spite of her initial rough circumstances), being held and fed and changed and sang to and prayed for and loved on. 
It can be easy to take for granted how developmentally important all of those basic ways of nurturing are, until you've been around kids who didn't get that as babies.


I woke up this morning, after my first night in two months of not having to get up for feedings.
I stayed in bed for a while, snuggling with my kids and staring at the wall that I want to paint.
When I got up and looked around my weirdly empty house, I felt a peace that I wasn't expecting to feel instead of sadness.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and helped August get some cereal.

It's going to be a good day.

Friday, September 7, 2018

My Mom has Cancer

I was outside, trying to busy myself with gardening, when I got the call I had been waiting for.

"It's Stage II. Cervical cancer."

Even though I had been expecting to hear exactly that, it still felt like a punch in the gut.

My mommy has cancer.
My pretty, petite, active, healthy, social, hard-working mother has cervical cancer.
I was able to go and visit my parents in Colorado just a few weeks ago, and as soon as I got there she shared with me that something wasn't right. Heavy bleeding and severe pelvic pain for a good while had led her to go see a doctor, who immediately started running tests and gave her some very honest possibilities of what it likely was, and none of them were great.

Then a few days after I came home from my trip, the biopsy came back and confirmed what we all figured it probably was.

We shed tears, because this is terrifying and surreal.
And then we talked about all the hope in it, how incredible it is that they caught it this early and of the good possibility that they could get all of it with surgery.
She'll be getting a full hysterectomy and they'll also be taking some lymph nodes out, and they really won't be able to know how far the cancer has spread until they biopsy those.

I'm so proud of my mom for how well she has taken this.
Yes, she has hope and is choosing to put her trust in God in each step of this hard journey.
But she has also had the courage to healthily grieve this.
Cancer is scary. People die from it every day.
And when you're told in your mid-fifties that you've joined the Cancer Club and you're given statistics of the likelihood you'll survive it... your life just turned upside down.

She's fought our natural human tendency to immediately put our Pollyanna faces, so that we can "stay strong" for others or ourselves.
She hasn't avoided facing the fear and the pain in the attempt to look or feel strong.
Because you know what takes actual strength? Vulnerability.
Feeling completely out of control, and relying on nothing but God for peace and hope.

The way that my mom has walked this balance every day since the news has been humbling and inspiring.
And as her daughter, who tends to be a little over-protective of her, I'm so thankful that so many friends and family have met her vulnerable circumstances with compassion and love and just being there. Instead of with all of their own fear or denial or hyper-positivity or a list of cancer horror stories (NO THANKS!)

So thank you to all of the people who have loved and supported her and my dad and me and my brothers so well these past few weeks and continue to do so. It really means more than you'll ever know.

And please be praying.

Pray for her surgery that is scheduled for the end of this month, which I'll be going back to Colorado for. That it would all go smoothly, and that they find that the cancer hasn't spread into her lymph system and she wouldn't need radiation treatment.
(As a side note, pray that my daughter and I are protected from this disease, considering it's genetic.)

Pray for her recovery process, that she can rest well for the 6 weeks needed until full recovery.

Pray for the financial aspect. My parents moved back to Colorado less than two years ago, and because of their careers at a non-profit and being self-employed, they've been planning on getting their own health insurance for a while, but in between all the busy-ness of life, it fell through the cracks and now it's too late with her pre-existing condition. But God is faithful and has always been our best provider, and He won't stop now.

And please pray that this would draw us closer to each other and to Jesus.
There really is nothing like feeling scared and out of control, that brings us more on our knees in front of the Lord, crying out to God that He would be near us in the darkness.

And the beautiful thing about darkness is that that's where His light shines brightest.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

We're Having A Baby

A couple days ago we got the call.

Our social worker called to tell us that there was a newborn baby girl in the hospital who will probably need a forever home.

Almost two years ago, we had started the process of becoming foster parents with the hope that we would get a call just like this someday. Over the past year that we've been licensed, we've had a handful of placements, here and there, and we've enjoyed being able to love on those kids, while also knowing that they wouldn't be staying with us permanently. 
But here we are, about to embark on a journey that might be different. Nothing is ever for certain with foster care, so we're not letting ourselves feel totally confident in her outcome, but we it won't stop us for praying for it.

Luke and I went to the hospital to meet her the day that we got the call, and it was pretty much love at first sight. She looks almost exactly like our daughter did when she was born, which is crazy.

She's been in the NICU, but she's been making incredible progress and we get to take her home TODAY!

It has felt so surreal to basically be told "You're about to have a baby! Except you don't have 9 months to prepare, you have like... 2 days!"
So we've just been over here, SCRAMBLING.
We need diapers! And a carseat! And clothes! And a swing! And a carrier! 

I was on the phone with a friend yesterday, who is giving me a bunch of her old baby stuff and she goes "Do you need bottles?"

I HADN'T EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT BOTTLES! How will she eat if we don't have bottles?!

It's been 4 years since our youngest was born, which is apparently long enough to forget EVERYTHING. We are basically going back to being total rookies with a brand new baby.

Our kids are so excited though, we took a ton of pictures and videos each time we visited her in the hospital and Vienna has watched them over and over again since then.
She was so excited to pick out a present for the baby.

God has been so good and faithful to give us such peace and show us amazing love through this. I have felt that so deeply with all of the support and enthusiasm we've even gotten from the friends and family we've been able to share it with, even though it's been such a whirlwind and haven't had the time to tell a lot of people. Our friends have been texting and calling and dropping baby items off, and the love and excitement for our family has been overwhelming.

So, all of that to say, please be praying for us!

Pray for Baby Girl, her physical and neurological health and development. That God would protect her through this whole thing, and that the legal system would fight for her and not fail her.

Pray for our kids, as their world is about to be a little rocked with a new baby around. That we would be able to make sure they all are getting lots of quality time with us in middle of all the transition, and that would feel loved and valued.

Pray for us! Pray that we would be continually relying on God's strength to do this well, and not our own, because our own strength isn't good enough. And pray that we would trust in Him and His plan, no matter what lies ahead on this roller coaster.

God is good, all the time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Month of Meals: Spring/Summer Version

I've been meal planning for about.. how long have I been married?... 8 years now! 
And it's hard work!
I mean ok... not like Navy Seal hard work... but still.
It takes a lot of time and prep and organization. But I had quickly found that I needed to plan out meals ahead of time if my family wasn't going to starve to death, because it turns out I'm not particularly good at coming up with many dinner ideas on the fly when it's 5pm and I'm hungry. WEIRD.

It's taken years to perfect and tweek, based on our family's likes and eating habits, but I've gotten to the point where I have a large enough list of meals in my rotation, that throwing together a meal plan for a few weeks in advance is fairly simple, and I've been able to help some friends with their own planning as well.

So because I know what a pain it can be to come up with new dinner ideas so that we're not eating spaghetti or pizza every night (although WOULD THAT BE SO WRONG?), I thought I would share a hypothetical meal plan that I threw together to post here.

A plan like this isn't too far off from how I cook most nights of out the week, excepting of course when we do actually do spaghetti or pizza or leftovers or I cook something new. (Which is why I only did 5 days per week, assuming you do the same.)
Even if you don't cook the same style as a lot of these recipes- whether you prefer meals as homemade and from scratch as possible OR you'd prefer meals with as many quick, easy convenience foods as possible (I tend to be a balancing act of both!)- you can modify pretty much any of these to your taste and the amount of time/effort you want to put in with it.
Use it as a basic structure and go from there.

Just FYI, all of these recipes are either ones that I've personally tried or ones that are essentially how I cook that meal, that I wanted to show you a helpful recipe/tutorial for.
As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the food bloggers,
for they shall feed the internet. 

Ok, here we go!

Week 1

Day 1- Pesto Chicken Tortellini

Like I shared in the recipe I posted for this, it's my favorite lazy dinner to make.
Perfect for Mondays.

Day 2- Taco Salad


Sometimes I make extra meat on taco night, then freeze it and bust it out for Taco Salad the next week. Here's a deliciously loaded recipe from A Spicy Perspective.

Day 3- Grilled Chicken Kebabs with Rice Pilaf

I love throwing colorful kebabs on the grill during summer, and serving them next to rice pilaf and a salad. Heres a recipe for Hawaiian Kebabs from Cooking Classy and one for Rice Pilaf at Erren's Kitchen.

Day 4- Shrimp Scampi

This lemony, buttery, garlicky goodness with a kick of heat is one of our favorites! 
Here's a great recipe for it from Damn Delicious.

Day 5- BBQ Pulled Pork with Cilantro Slaw and Chips

Whether you make her Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork or you just throw a pork shoulder and a bottle of BBQ sauce in the crockpot - definitely top it off with her divine Cilantro Slaw - from The Pioneer Woman.

Week 2

Day 1- Fish Tacos

Confession: Sometimes I make fish tacos with fish sticks. And so can you!
Here's a recipe for a simple but not-from-the-frozen-section version at Delish.
(But make sure to drizzle on Johanna's Lime Crema that I posted about HERE.)

Day 2- Sesame Noodles with Steak

This is another favorite from The Pioneer Woman.
Make extra sauce, marinade a steak in it, then grill it up, and serve it sliced up on top of the noodles. Sooooo good.

Day 3- Stromboli with Caesar Salad

Stromboli is a staple in our house. (Anything that is basically pizza is a staple in our house.)
Here's a recipe for it from Simply Scratch, but feel free to use store bought pizza sauce for dipping or even a can of pizza crust from the refrigerated section.
(But my 
favorite is to use my friend Heidi's Breadstick Recipe for the dough.)

Day 4- Southwest Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

I posted this one last month and think that it should be eaten as often as possible, especially in summer! See how to put them together again HERE.

Day 5- Grilled Bratwurst with Potato Salad

Not many foods are as summery as bratwurst. Here's a recipe on Mom 4 Real of how she does Beer Brats on the grill (looks amazing!)

Also, my sister-in-law, Katelyn, made the most incredible potato salad I've ever had in my life when we were visiting them a couple weeks ago and here's the recipe by Ina Garten.
(Except Katelyn omitted celery and added hardboiled egg, which was way better.)

Week 3

Day 1- Honey Siracha Chicken with Rice 

I love this dish and sometimes instead of rice, I use spiraled zucchini noodles tossed in some rice vinegar, which is so refreshing and a little more low-carb. Here's the recipe at Creme De La Crumb.

Day 2- Steak with Twice Baked Potatoes and Broccoli

Throw some steaks on the grill, make these beautiful twice baked potatoes from The Girl Who Ate Everything, serve with some steamed broccoli, and impress everyone.

Day 3- Baked Ziti with Salad

This simplified baked ziti from Smitten Kitchen has become one of my go-to's.
Serve it with a salad and a spicy Cabernet.

Day 4- Frittata with Biscuits and Fruit

Because of all the fresh eggs we get every day, I tend to do breakfast for dinner about once a week. I love making a quiche or frittata, like this one from Ally's Cooking, and then serving it with biscuits and jam, and some fruit on the side. 

Day 5- Carnitas Burritos

Mexican food is my true love, so I try to make a big Chipotle-style spread as often as I can get away with it.
Here's what I put on the table:

TortillaLand Tortillas
Carnitas from my friend Heidi at House-Wifery.
Cilantro Lime Rice from Skinny Taste.
Pinto Beans.
Pico De Gallo.
Sour Cream.
High Expectations.

(It never disappoints.)

Week 4

Day 1- Coconut Shrimp Curry over Rice

Now, I realize it's not exactly considered authentic Indian food when you learn to make it from a ranch wife in Oklahoma. BUT her recipe is so simple and basic, that if you didn't eat a lot of ethnic food growing up, dishes like these are a great place to start familiarizing yourself with the ingredients and flavors. I usually add chopped tomatoes to this Coconut Shrimp Curry by The Pioneer Woman.

Day 2- Chipotle Chicken Panini with Chips and Carrot Sticks

Paninis are one of my most cherished food groups. And then you add bacon and chipotle mayo and I'm officially in heaven.
Here's a great recipe from Sweet Tea and Thyme, and if you feel like not making your own aioli, you can always just snag some chipotle mayo from the store.

Day 3- Lemon Chicken Piccata over Angel Hair with Salad


One of my all time favorite pasta dishes, that is both delicious and beautiful.
Get the recipe at Cafe Delites.

Day 4- Steak Fajitas

I could probably eat steak fajitas every day for the rest of my life. But that probably wouldn't be healthy, so I try to only eat them every other day. (Kidding.)
This recipe from Little Spice Jar is quality stuff.

Day 5- Bonzai Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries

The Bonzai Burger from Red Robin is the subject of many of my daydreams.
A teriyaki-glazed burger and a grilled pineapple slice snuck in with the regular condiments somehow transforms this burger into something that should go into a Hall of Fame.
Here's a copycat recipe from Blog Chef, and what I like to do is make a Sweet Chili Mayo (one part chili sauce + one part mayo) to put on the bun and then to dip the sweet potato fries in. GLORIOUS.

Well, that's a wrap. I hope this can be of a help and support to you, whether you use the whole thing, or just pick and choose a couple new recipes! 
If you have any questions about how to modify any of these recipes or about meal planning in general, feel free to comment or email me :)

Pesto Chicken Tortellini

Let me introduce you to one of our staple meals in our household:  
Tortellini with Pesto, Chicken, and Tomatoes.

Here are some of the reasons I love it and make it so often-
1.) Pasta filled with cheese.
2.) Pesto and chicken (two of my favorite things!)
3.) Pasta filled with cheese.
4.) Literally only 5 ingredients!
5.) Pasta filled with cheese.
6.) It takes MAYBE 20 minutes to make, from start to finish!
7.) Pasta filled with cheese.

Do you see what I'm saying here?
How could we not all fall in love with a dish that is quick, easy, delicious and made with PASTA FILLED WITH CHEESE?

Much like the Southwest Stuffed Sweet Potatoes I posted last month, this "recipe" feels a lot less like an actual recipe and just more like assembly instructions, because of how little actual cooking there is involved.

Nonetheless, here's what you'll need:

Chicken breast, tortellini, pesto, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and enthusiasm for carbs.

1.) Start by boiling water to make your tortellini.
I prefer the cheese tortellini from the frozen section, but different types of tortellini (like chicken and mushroom) are also kept in the refrigerated section around the deli items of grocery stores. 

2.) Cut up your chicken into 1 inch pieces, and sauté it in a hot skillet over medium-high heat with some olive oil and garlic.
Cook it up until golden, around 10-15 minutes, and add a little salt, pepper, and paprika at the end.

3.) Add your desired amount cherry tomatoes (cut in half), and then turn off the heat.

**This is also where you could throw in some spinach to add some extra veggies and color to the dish**

4.) Add the pesto* to your drained tortellini.

*You can either get jarred pesto in the aisle with the pasta and marinara, or you can find fresh pesto in the same refrigerated section that you find the fresh tortellini in. It's a bit more pricey, but if you get it at Sam's Club or Costco, like I do, you get a better deal and it's ohhhh so good.

5.) Add the chicken and tomatoes to the pesto tortellini and grate in as much parmesan as your heart desires.

Boom. Done.

When something is this easy and scrumptious, and my family shovels down bowls of it like it's going out of style... it becomes a regular go-to for busy weekday nights.
Feel free to make it even easier for yourself by just using rotisserie chicken!

Either way, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do :)

Pesto Chicken Tortellini

-2 chicken breasts
-1 package cheese tortellini 
-A handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
-1/4-1/2 cup basil pesto
-grated parmesan

1.) Boil water, and cook tortellini according to package directions, drain.
2.) Cut up chicken into 1 inch pieces, sauté in pan with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika.
3.) Add tomatoes (and spinach) and remove from heat.
4.) Add desired amount of pesto to tortellini, gently stir, then add chicken and tomatoes.
5.) Serve with grated parmesan.