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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fixing Doesn't Fix

Husbands have an unfortunate reputation for being fixers. 
It's pretty common for wives to express "I wish that he would JUST LISTEN, instead of just trying to fix everything!" 
Men tend to get majority of the blame for this tendency, but it's been my experience that women are just as bad in this area, possibly even more so. Our temptation to fix might not mainly be in arena of marriage (or maybe it is), but rather in friendships.

Our friends and family share their struggles, and our pragmatic brains start firing on all cylinders.
Have you tried this? 
Have you tried that? 
Maybe if you just did this!

We tend to be so quick to go into Problem Solving Mode, offering all of the advice and personal experience and books and essential oils we can think of that could be the thing needed to resolve a hard situation.

I believe that this impulse is mostly well meaning. Someone we care about is hurting and we don't want them to be. We want them to be happy and thriving and that's a good desire. So of course we need to help them find a solution to their problem!

But I also think that there's a subconscious motivation that is less benevolent and selfless than we might be willing to admit to ourselves:

Other people's pain makes us uncomfortable.

It does.
We don't like feeling helpless or out of control. We want to BE ABLE to fix it all.
We like order and pleasure and comfort, and we spend most of the moments of our life fighting to have those. Which isn't inherently bad! On the contrary, we were created for those things! 
Ecclesiastes says that God has set eternity on our hearts, so of course our souls long for a life in paradise. But until we get there, we're just not there and it's foolish to act like we are.
This world is broken and is filled with fragile, hurting people.

People who live with chronic diseases and who have lost children.
People who have mental illness and dysfunctional families.
People who feel alone in their marriages and alone in their churches.

We can't change these hard circumstances with chipper advice and emotional duct tape.
I think most of us have felt the sting of someone responding to our vulnerability with a list of fixes and solutions. It can make us shut down and feel even more alone. 
And it teaches us that this person isn't a safe place to share our hearts with.

I love the way our propensity for this was portrayed in the character Joy from Inside Out. Joy kept wanting Sadness to go away so that everything could be good and happy again, but one of the main messages of the movie was that Sadness had to be involved in order for healing to take place. 

When the people we love are in a season of pain and grief, we need to be less like Joy, chirping "Hey! Don't worry! It's all gonna be OK!!", and more like Sadness. 
We need to sit next to someone and just be with them. Offering them compassion and empathy, and not much more.
We listen to them and cry with them and we tell them how sorry we are that they are in this.
We ask if we can pray for them and we cry out to God to carry them through this season and heal their hearts.

Entering into those spaces with compassion instead of answers takes self-control.
Entering into those spaces with the willingness to feel someone's pain with them takes courage.
And entering into those spaces takes hope and faith that God will redeem it, whether in this life or the next.

All of that is worth it to show others the love and mercy of Jesus.
There isn't one hard and painful road that we walk down, that Jesus doesn't understand or hasn't experienced himself.
There isn't any pain or fear or doubt that we have that makes Jesus uncomfortable.
His perfect ability to empathize and really weep with those weep is what our weary souls long for, and it's one of most important ways we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others.

I believe He will give us that self-control and courage and faith if we ask Him for it.
And I believe that He's faithful to give us the wisdom to discern which moments in life are the ones to encourage and advise (which there are!), and which are the ones to just be there and listen.

We should stop trying to fix things so much, because frankly, we're bad at it.
But we can trust that Jesus will fix it, and that he's good at it.
Which He has proven, over and over again. 
And He has promised to never stop.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Current Faves: God Bless America Edition

Happy Belated Independence Day!

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays, right after Christmas of course. All of the patriotic outfits and decorations, the food and fireworks, hanging out with friends and family... it's all so summery and festive.
 I'll be honest with you though.. I had a harder time getting excited about celebrating our nation's birthday this year. I think mostly because for the past couple of years it's all just been bad news on top of bad news followed by more bad news, and there's only so much of that you can hear (or purposefully tune out) without getting discouraged. I love my country and I've always been proud of it as a whole, for it's incredible history and so many of the amazing freedoms that it stands for... but this year I've struggled to feel that pride. Everything is a mess. And yes, I know there hasn't ever been a perfect moment in our history, but there seems to be more disunity and unrest than in years past, and it's been harder and harder to stay optimistic.

But as bummed out as I can get watching my country that I love not do well, God is faithful to remind me that I'm a Christian way before I'm an American. 
And Jesus is not American, nor are we His favored nation.
Worst case scenario, this country totally loses it's marbles and falls apart (which I still think we're pretty far away from) - God will still be on His throne. And He definitely doesn't need the USA or any other man-made institution to bring about His glory and rescue His people unless He wills it.

Having said that, when we went to our town's parade that morning and we watched multiple floats filled with veterans waving at us pass by and behind them people carrying huge banners welcoming home the recently released prisoners of war, so many emotions of honor and pride swelled up within me. It really did help me remember that if there's any reason to not give up hope, it's for all of the men and women who sacrifice everything for us to live in the Land of the Free. (Cue the ugly crying.)

And in spite of all of my deep inner turmoil over a silly holiday, we ended up having a fantastic day. Even though the morning was rainy, our kids loved the parade (mainly the part about candy being thrown at them) and we all had a great time with friends that night.

It should also be noted that only one child was burnt by a sparkler, which is statistically much better than we've done some other years.

(The child, of course, was Boaz.)

And now here are a few of the things I've been enjoying this summer, that I think you would too:

Technically it's a 'mini casserole dish', not a butter crock.
But you guys... I hate butter dishes. I do.
They're completely impractical, because butter never actually stays in a nice, rectangular shape, so they're always a total mess which WASTES BUTTER and that's just flat out unacceptable. I've been a butter dish anarchist for a while now, but none of the other dishes or containers I've used instead were as adorable as this one. I'm feeling very pleased.

This mini casserole dish is part of PW's summer line and it comes in teal and navy blue, both with floral lids. I've only been able to find them at certain Walmarts, so grab one up quick if you spot them.

BUT if you can't find one of hers, I have seen little mini dutch ovens in the Target Dollar Spot this summer, which would be a charming alternative.

2.) I Do Again 

A couple weeks ago I picked up I Do Again and was instantly hooked. In it Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs share their amazing testimony of how God reconciled their marriage after an affair was had and they had been divorced for 7 years. Their story is INCREDIBLE, you guys. It is an absolutely amazing testimony of the way God redeems our mistakes (even huge ones), heals our hearts, and satisfies our longing for intimacy.  It was such a blessing to be able to listen to their story and see when and where those seeds of discontentment were planted early on, so that we have the opportunity to protect our own marriages before it causes that level of damage. And I was so encouraged by their honesty and vulnerability about what a struggle it can be to trust God through loneliness and the process of healing.
 The Scruggs' have a marriage ministry now, where they use their testimony and insight to counsel other couples, which just yet again shows how Jesus can take a dumpster fire of a situation and use it to actually save other marriages. Ugh. I can't get over it.

Get it on Amazon HERE and don't forget to grab the tissues.

My love and devotion to these tortillas goes back many years, but I make it my life's work to get as many converts to them as I can.
Unlike most tortillas in grocery stores, these are uncooked, but once you make them at home you have delicious, authentic-tasting tortillas that you could honestly just eat plain, they're so good.  All you do to cook them is throw one on a heated nonstick pan, flip it over, and it's done in less then a minute. Yes, it's more effort than just buying packaged cooked ones, but once you try it, you'll never want to go back.
You can find them at Costco, Walmart, and most local grocery stores. They'll be in the refrigerated section (near the cheese), and I highly recommend using them for breakfast burritos or a Chipotle-style spread with carnitas, cilantro lime rice, and pico de gallo (like I did the other night.)

" SCRUMTRULESCENT, I can barely move."

4.) My newest garage sale score

Garage Sale season has been in full swing, my friends, and what a glorious season it is! Going garage sale hopping on the weekends in summertime and finding treasures amongst other people's trash is truly one of life's greatest joys, in my opinion.

And speaking of treasure, I found these amazingly hideous chairs at a sale for ONE DOLLAR EACH and I made sure to nab them up before I had to elbow any old ladies out of the way to get them.
(I'm kidding. I do become a shrewd haggler at garage sales, but physical confrontation hasn't ever been necessary... yet.)

I brought them home, spruced them up, and voila! New dining room chairs.

It truly is amazing what one can accomplish with a can of spray paint
and a coupon from Hobby Lobby.

(I think I'll have that put on my tombstone.)

It took me a little bit to decide on which fabric to go with for the chairs, but I ended up with this one because I liked the vintage script and postage stamps, plus I thought the colorful birds added some whimsy.

I find it so cathartic to turn old, gross things into something pretty, and give them a fresh start in life.

Of course, their fresh start does happen to be in a household with three young children who always have either dirt or paint or jelly on them... so I can't exactly guarantee their new life will necessarily be better.. but hey, we'll enjoy them for the whole 2 weeks they last.

Once I got these, I decided to repaint my other dining room chairs and the bench, so that they could all match and be friends. They used to be a barn red, but had had enough years of use that they needed a makeover too. The darker furniture definitely has been something to visually get used to, but we're happy with it. 
(Also, please don't be fooled by this dining room that I managed to sort of keep clean for 10 minutes while my kids were outside. What you can't see are the soggy rice krispies on the table or the bright pink playdough stuck to the rug. Let's keep it real, shall we?)

Hideous old chairs like these are EVERYWHERE. Even if you don't have a ton of garage sales in your area, thrift stores and consignment shops or even craigslist are lousy with outdated but sturdy chairs that are super cheap and just need some TLC. 
Find them. Paint them. Love them.

Well thanks for hanging in there with me while I'm kind all over the map right now.. politics and butter dishes just get my blood pressure all sorts of worked up.

I hope had a happy 4th and are living your best summer life.