Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Best Souvenir Ever

Every other year or so, our little family of three loads down the Jeep with what seems like too much stuff, setting out for a road trip of great proportions.  While we always plan which hotels we'll be using ahead of time, we don't really have much of a solid agenda until we get where we're going.  I always sit down and research all of the possibilities in each hub several weeks before we embark and bring a list, from which we choose our adventures as the mood sees fit while we're on the road.  This year, we trekked through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with our hotels parked in New Orleans, Buloxi, and Orange Beach respectively.  What we brought home with us is what I consider the best souvenir ever...REDECORATING!




About a month before our vacation, my three years of begging finally paid off and I conned the hubby into repainting and redecorating our master bedroom.  We yanked the hideous builder's special ceiling fan down and replaced it with a gorgeous chandelier that looks like a crown.  The walls went from puke-pink to a serene seafoam.  The patio door lost the makeshift blackout shade and was upgraded into a "window" with floor to ceiling drapes.  Our outdated 80s dresser and folky night stands got a facelift, too, with a fresh coat of cream paint, now creating a beautiful matching set.  I even sold my huge jewelry dresser and created an open-air jewelry box out of an old type-set drawer (be on the lookout soon for a DIY post!).  I'm slowly completing the sewing projects this renovation created...new shams and pillows, done.  New bedskirt and skirt for my secretary desk, not so much.  Plus, I'm really trying to save up for a huge furry rug.  But I digress...

While we were out and about meandering throughout the south, I pulled up pinterest on my phone and started hardcore pinning ideas for my new sanctuary.  I like eclectic, mismatched-yet-coordinated pieces that look like they've been collected over time with loving care but reckless abandon.  Only, I want them all NOW.  I found myself repeatedly pinning collections of plates hung on the wall.  So while we were pulled over for a stretch break, I inundated the hubby with as many pristine examples as possible, and much to my surprise, he agreed to hit "a few" antique stores along our path.  Heeheehee.  Got him.

After scouring approximately two thousand antique stores in two weeks, we ended up with a new suitcase full of vintage cake plates, teacup saucers, soap dishes, and photo frames.  We agreed ahead of time to focus on three distinct subject matters:  birds, flowers, and victorian scenes....any of which containing gold accents was a bonus.  We found and purchased any that we loved, not paying too much attention to size other than making sure that we had a good variety of diameters and shapes to work with.  And I got to show Jason my incredible haggling skills...I saved us at least 10-20% on almost everything we found, and over half in some cases!  I knew growing up poor would one day pay off.

Perfection wasn't a requirement for us.  This little lady came from a shop in New Orleans, and she was just too lovely to let that chip in the corner of her frame keep her from coming home with us!

I may be mildly obsessed with birds.  I had to have this one because it makes me laugh...it looks like a couple of old married birds arguing about something trivial.  How could I not include them?

And sometimes, you just have to buy something that is a likeness of yourself. 


Once we got home, I laid them all out on the floor, playing with the arrangement, until I found one I loved, and that he could live with.  I used post-its to number each plate in an order that seemed to make sense to me at the time...and I took a good photo as a back up.  Then I used craft paper to trace each plate, cutting it out and numbering it.  I taped my arrangement onto the wall to see if I liked it as much in practice, and discovered that I needed to edit my collection a bit due to space constraints.  After a final collage was agreed upon, we followed the directions precisely on the plate discs, creating a consistent hanging method for all of our plates.  I found the plate discs at Hobby Lobby, and they came in several sizes.  Some of my plates were pretty small, so I had to cut down even the smallest disc to fit.


 
Once that was done, all that was left to do was hang the plates.  After much deliberation, my tried-and-true method of hold-it-up-there-and-then-eyeball-it won out over all other more man-type suggestions, and an hour later, voila!  I still absolutely love this little menagerie, and find great joy in the memories that are stirred from each individual plate.  I love the color and texture each adds, and how they all just go together.  Totally my happy place.  



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taco Scoop-Soup


This is probably one of my favorite dinners.  Ever.  It's delicious, yes, but it is also way too easy to make.  And fun to eat.  Yup.  You'd have to be crazy not to like it.

2 lbs hamburger meat
2 tbsp taco seasoning
1 onion, chopped
1 can beef broth
1 can rotel
1 can corn (do not drain)
1 can black beans (do not drain)
Shredded cheese
Tortilla chips (I actually fry up fresh corn tortillas to make huge chips for dipping, but any tortilla chips work fine!)

In a skillet, brown hamburger meat with onion.  Drain grease, then add taco seasoning, stirring until evenly coated.  While meat is browning, in a large soup pot, add all other ingredients and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Add browned meat, heating back to a simmer.

We like to use a slotted spoon to drain off most of the liquid when we add to our bowls, then we stir in a heap of shredded cheese (about 1/2 cup) and stir it in until it's all melty and delicious.  Then we use our chips to scoop up the soup and gobble it up!  The reason I fry up corn tortillas instead of simply buying corn chips is to help us to count carbs.  I usually make each of us 3 or 4 tortillas each.

This reheats exceptionally well, but if you have leftovers, store them with the liquid, even if you drain it off like we do.  Just makes reheating easier.

If divided into 4 equal portions, each serving is about 27 carbs, plus the carbs for each tortilla.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Stacked Mexican Casserole

Admittedly, I'm not a food photographer.  Plus, I'm way more concerned with how things taste than how they look.  So, forgive the homely appearance and horrible photography.  Trust me, it's delicious.
*see addendum below for an alternate version of this recipe...like I've said before, I rarely make the same thing the same way twice, and I liked the second version even better!
1 lb hamburger
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained  
olive oil
1 yellow pepper, chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup salsa verde
1 cup frozen corn
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
About a dozen corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese (I use fiesta blend), divided

Preheat oven to 375.

In one skillet, brown hamburger meat with onions until cooked through.  Drain grease.  Add black beans and cilantro, heating through.

Meanwhile, in another skillet, cook yellow pepper and garlic in olive oil (about 1-2 tbsp) until pepper is tender.  Add salsa, corn, and cumin and chili powder.  Simmer until heated through.

In greased baking dish (2qt), line bottom with torn corn tortillas.  Add meat & bean mixture to dish.  Evenly spread one cup of shredded cheese on top.  Cover with another layer of torn corn tortillas.  Add corn & pepper mixture.  Cover evenly with remaining cheese.

Bake, covered loosely with foil, for about 15 minutes until cooked through and cheese is melted.   Serve as is, or add a dollop of sour cream.

If divided into four equal servings, each serving is about 40 carbs.

ADDENDUM::
 Because I wasn't sure how well this reheats, I used a loaf pan and only used half of each mixture.  That way, I could rebuild the casserole the next evening anew...and not have to hope it reheats well.  Well, this evening when we had round two, I added something that made it even better!
After the first layer (bottom layer of tortillas, plus meat mixture, cheese, & second layer of tortillas), I added half a can of refried beans, seasoned with about a tbsp or two of taco seasoning.  I heated them up in the microwave to make them easily spreadable, and made an even layer of them.  Then I spread the pepper/corn mixture on top of that and added the remaining cheese.  HOLY MOLY, so delicious.  In the future, I'll probably omit the black beans and make it this way from now on (replacing the beans will keep the carb count about the same per serving instead of elevating it).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Being a Mom is Hard


Admittedly, this post was scheduled to be centered around a new discipline tactic for the Pooky Bear that seems to be more effective than anything else I've tried to date.  And I might still get to that, but I've got to be honest, this post is going to be all over the place.  These past several months of discipline...well, trying to figure out appropriate discipline anyway...have been excruciating.  I have failed my sweet son so many times out of frustration and anger.  Most days end with me so frazzled and defeated that I scarcely recognize myself.  I am flat out exhausted.

Wyatt is an absolutely brilliant kid.  It isn't so much what he knows, but rather how he thinks that consistently amazes me.  Granted, he can rattle off all kinds of trivial knowledge about anything related to the animal kingdom, but most kids can retain all sorts of information that revolves around their passions.  Rather,  I'm astounded by his problem-solving ability, along with his mind for engineering.  He is forever inventing really complex contraptions...albeit in his mind...and relaying to me his desires to construct them in real life.  He is also quite apt at logical debate.  He comes by that little nugget naturally from his Vulcan father (if you've met Jason, you'll appreciate that oh-so-accurate description).  I can barely argue my way out of a wet paper bag, so this is truly a source of misery for me.

Basically, Wyatt likes to argue and debate.  A lot.  He takes absolutely nothing at face value. Nothing.  Sometimes this is a wonderfully positive attribute, as he continues to ask prodding, in-depth questions about a subject which he is trying to comprehend fully.    Just last night at dinner, he was asking his Dad about Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.  He knew that while in Eden, every need was provided, and that after they were banned, they had to work the ground for their food.  So he wanted to know how they built their house.  Did they invent axes and saws and construction tools?  How did they know how to make and form metal?  How did they know how to build a house?  Did they have to invent shovels and gardening tools for cultivating their food?  It went on and on.  And it was awesome to witness.  I could not have been more proud of his mind at work.

Having him pick apart every command you ever give him and question your authority over him on a perpetual basis, however, is anything but awesome.  In moments of mental weakness, I will banter back and forth with him a bit, but those exchanges almost always end with an exasperated, "BECAUSE I'M THE MOM AND I SAID SO!"  Not an entirely effective discipline tactic, and for sure not one that builds respect in either direction.  And...it doesn't stop him from the interrogation or behavior.

Over the years, we've tried all kinds of discipline, most of which fall decidedly short of being effective.  Once, for a particularly egregious moment of defiance, I confiscated every item within our entire house that was his, locking it into the spare bedroom.  Every toy, every game, every EVERY thing.  All he had was his bed.  No tv or video games, either.  All he had left was his library of books...and me.  Two weeks passed, and he never asked for a single thing out of that room.  Nor did he ever attempt to open the door.  He was content to read, draw, and play with me...or rocks and sticks.  So...that didn't work.

Time outs are kind of weak, too, although he really hates being isolated to his room, so from time to time, it's just what the doctor ordered.  But I use time outs more for a cooling-off method than discipline.  Spankings only work when they're from Dad, and I can count on one hand how many times that's ever happened.  Those are monumentally effective, but a last resort for behavior that is detrimental to his or others' safety.

So, you can see where I've been at a loss.  Until a few weeks ago, when I saw his report card.  Straight A's on every subject except handwriting.  Several factors beyond his control are behind this particular struggle; I have partnered with his teacher and an OT for ideas to strengthen his hand muscles and improve his fine motor skills.  But the best medicine is practice.  Which he loathes.

I honestly don't want to turn something he desperately needs to do into a punishment.  I've been encouraging him to write in a journal somewhat regularly, and I do my best to keep a positive attitude when he's plowing through his homework.  I reassure him that I'm not looking for perfection, but I want him to do his personal best.  Most of his assignments are rather brief, so I have to supplement his handwriting practice anyway.  So it hit me a couple of weeks ago that perhaps he should be writing affirmative declarative statements in reference to the behaviors I want to see out of him.  And scripture that supports those statements.  So that he knows I ain't just blowing hot air out of my nose holes.  It's effective, I promise you.  The contrition I've seen over the past several days is the most sincere I've ever seen from him.  The devastation over a misstep that results in sentence-writing is evidence that I finally found his soft spot.  

I don't pretend to have all of the answers.  I rarely know what I am doing.  This whole Motherhood gig is way harder than I ever imagined it would be.  Sometimes, I wonder if I am the only Mom making it up as I go...throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks.  I wonder if I'm the only Mom who loses my temper too much and yells when I should just count to ten instead.  If I'm the only one who feels horrific guilt for not getting it all right.  At the end of every day, I replay every interaction in which I coulda, woulda, shoulda, and beat myself up.  All I want is for Wyatt to know how loved, how cherished he is.  I don't expect perfection...he's only seven for crying out loud...so why can't I remember that in the moments that matter? Why don't I show him grace instead of losing control of my emotions?

At the beginning of this year, I rededicated my focus.  God and my family...the Mister and Pooky...get more of me than anyone else.  I have removed as many distractions as I can from my path....I reduced my facebook friends list significantly to limit its draw, I've uninstalled that app from my phone, I've committed to being fully present when with other humans (no phone or computer time when I have a person with me!), I've started turning down invitations to things that take time away from my directive, I restructured my photography business so that I can work less hours, and I've been seeking God's guidance.  I bought copies of The Love Dare books...both the one for marriage and the one for parents...and I've been reading them simultaneously.  With the time I have set aside for myself, I have been spending more time with friends who are edifying and help to build me up in Christ, and who hold me accountable.  And most of all, I thank the good Lord that His mercies are new every morning.  Things are slowly changing for the better.  I am a major work in progress. But He who started a good work in me promises to see it through to completion.  And I believe Him.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chicken Potato Soup


I know I can't be the only person who sometimes starts throwing random ingredients into a pot, all the while crossing my fingers hoping it turns out edible...?  I get bored with the same old dinners.  So sometimes, I just pretend to be Julia Childs and whip up total randomness.  This is one such dinner, and it was DELICIOUS!

As I've mentioned before, I'm all about not using a lot of dishes.  So this one only took the one pot...plus the chopping board and knife.

2 tbsp olive oil
about 1 lb frozen boneless, skinless chicken thigh strips (I just make a single layer that covers the entire bottom of the stock pot)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 32oz box chicken broth
1 cup chopped carrots
3-4 ribs celery, sliced
1 cup frozen corn
1 medium potato, cubed
1 can cream of chicken soup + 1 can water
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp celery salt
2-3 tbsp instant potato flakes (up to you...to desired thickness)

In large soup pot, cook chicken and onions in olive oil until onions are tender, turning chicken strips as needed.  Add broth and all vegetables.  Bring to boil, then lower temp and simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender.  Remove chicken strips and cut into bite-sized pieces, then return to pot. Add soup plus water, and season with salt & pepper and celery salt.  Heat through until simmering again.  Add potato flakes slowly, one tbsp at a time, until desired thickness is obtained.

For us, this makes four equal servings that are around 35 carbs each. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Friends for a Season


 Growing up, I was what you might call a loner.  I struggled to make and keep friends.  I had one constant friend throughout most of my childhood, and we could not have been any closer if we'd tried.  If I wasn't at her house, she was at mine, and the lines between friendship and family for both of our families was forever blurred.  Then, we turned into teenagers, and slowly but surely, our interests began to diverge, and we both developed friendships outside of our circle of two.  Before we knew it, we were more like acquaintances.  Do I love her any less?  No!  To this day, my heart cheers when I think of her and her family.  And I will always cherish the memories we share.  Nonetheless, that inseparable closeness that we had way back when we were little girls cannot be rekindled.  Why?  Because God gave us each other for the season of childhood.  Each of us needed exactly what the other had to freely offer.  For that season.

Explaining the dissolution of a childhood friendship is fairly simple.  No hurts need to have occurred.  People simply grow up and grow apart.  But what about when you do grow up and a friendship that felt like it would be forever somehow falls apart?  How do you reconcile that confusion and heartbreak?

Like I said, true friends were a rarity for me throughout life.  I scarcely had more than one person around whom I was fully myself.  I am grateful to God that He has allowed many of those friendships to continue into my adulthood...I may only see those few girls in person a few times a year, but when we do come together, it's as if not a day has passed and the giggling and warmth picks up where we left off.  And since having a child, I've enjoyed friendships with other women of such a depth I never knew possible, those relationships being so tightly-knit around the common threads of motherhood and faith.  I've also experienced heart-wrenching break-ups with friends with whom I could never have imagined not being a part of my daily life.  Friends whose closeness exceeded anything I ever thought possible.  Friends with whom I freely shared every hurt and victory and dream and fear.  And now they're strangers.

With the exception of one of these ended relationships, I could not begin to tell you what drew us apart.  Some waned slowly; phone calls, texts, and playdates just became less and less frequent until one day, they stopped altogether.  Some were more abrupt, but even those had no edge of hostility or dislike to them.  So what happened?

Well, to quote Genesis 8:22, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”  When the Lord created everything as we know it, in His infinite wisdom, He created seasons.  Everything was created with an expiration date, including us.  And because God is forever bending and shaping our characters, it is impossible for us to remain the same.  As we experience life, we change.  As He is sowing in our hearts the lessons we need to learn in order to complete His will in our lives, He places in our paths the exact people and trials that will mold our hearts to His.  Some of these relationships are meant to stand the test of time.  Our marriages, for example.  Biblical marriage vows are far more than romantic words, they are a covenant between yourself, God, and your spouse.  And from a fruitful marriage often comes children.  The bond of parenthood is another that is not meant to be broken.  

But what about friendships?  Can those last a lifetime?  Absolutely!  And many do, especially when based upon building one another up and edifying each other in a faith in Christ Jesus.  Even still, many of our friendships in life are meant to carry us through something.  These friends teach us new things, reveal in us strengths and weaknesses of which we were unaware, and prepare in us a testimony that can be used later on in life.  To achieve that purpose, your life's pathway runs parallel with your friend's for a time.  Many times, those paths fork at some point, and each in turn coincides with another person's who needs a walking buddy.  And each of these joint jaunts will refine you into exactly who you're meant to be.  Sometimes through joy, and sometimes through agony, but you will be changed.

The most important lesson I've learned over the past few years is to accept the decline of a strong friendship without bitterness.  The first couple of times, I'm afraid I didn't let go gracefully, and hearts were hurt unnecessarily...mine and theirs.  Even when both parties involved have tried to prolong the inevitable, once the spark was gone, it was gone, and interactions felt forced and unnatural.  Clinging to such a mess is unhealthy and allows resentment and bitterness to take root.  And that ain't gonna help nobody.

So, am I saying that when a dry season occurs between yourself and a friend, you should just let everything you've built crumble and die?  Er, no.  Pray.  Ask God what His will for your friendship is.  Ask Him to show you whether this door should be closed so another can open.  Ask Him to give you the words to speak to your friend so that a bridge over the chasm can be built.  All relationships ebb and flow.  No two people will always be on the same page, even if they are in the same book.  Disagreements and differences of opinion are going to happen.  Forgiveness and grace are going to be required in great quantities.  Sacrifices will need to be made on your part when your friend is unable to fend for herself, and vice versa.  Truth is paramount, even when you know it's going to hurt.  Friendships that can survive the bumps and potholes along the path of life will stand the test of time, but you will both have battle wounds and scars to show for it down the road.  If God is urging you to knuckle down and press on, listen and obey.  If He is telling you to gracefully bow out, listen and obey.  Because if He is telling you to do something, and you try to circumvent Him, He will accomplish what He has set out to do in another way, but you're very likely to suffer much more heartbreak than if you'd heeded Him.  And if He is telling you to hold on, take heart in knowing that He will bless the both of you through and after the storm.  

In either case, relish in the fact that God loves you and that He desires your friendship.  Regardless of the number of human friendships you boast, the most important, closest relationship that you could ever have is with your Creator, and He desires to dwell inside of your heart!  He doesn't even mind the clingy type.  And He can handle every single flaw that you've got...after all, He knit you together inside your mother's womb, and knew you intimately before time began.  The more you earnestly seek Him, the closer to you He becomes.  And from that relationship, you will be eternally blessed. 





Thursday, January 16, 2014

A day in the life

Someone posted this video of a Sad Cat's Diary the other day, and I laughed harder than is really reasonable watching it.  Inspired by the hilarity of what is possibly the most accurate peek into feline thoughts ever, I wondered if similar ramblings run through Wyatt's mind throughout the day.  I realize that he has been verbal since an abnormally young age, and therefore could express himself audibly should the mood strike him, but let's all pretend that he has consideration for my feelings and/or some sense of modesty that would only permit him to vent his true 7-year-old feelings into a diary.  Here goes:

Monday, January 13, 2014

5:41am:  Woke up feeling perky and excited to start the day.  Ran to tell Mom about my crazy dream in which I could transform myself into various underwater animals.  As usual, she started mumbling some nonsense about it not being daylight outside and sent me back to bed.  I wasn't even tired.

7:00am:  Was rudely jolted from a deep sleep by Mom running her hands through my hair...who does she think she is?..and ordered to the kitchen table. To protest this violation of my blessed slumber, I decided to flat out refuse to eat anything Mom offered me for breakfast.  The lunatic threatened to let me starve, so I relented and ate a poptart.  But I whimpered and moaned the whole time.  The look of exasperation on her face was more than satisfying.  I especially love it when she sighs.

7:45am:  Does the insanity never stop in this house?!  She made me brush my hair and my teeth.  To repay this injustice, I waited until I was fully dressed and on the way to the car to announce the need to void my bladder.  On the way to school, I was continually frustrated by Mom's complete refusal to look in the rear-view mirror at the amazing variety of poses that the lego man I found next to a fossilized french fry could manage.  She has no appreciation for art.

11:20am:  Ah, lunch time.  Combined with recess, this is my favorite part of the day.  I'm given just enough time to eat a total of nine sunflower seeds...savored individually, of course...while simultaneously distracting my friends from the mundane task of eating with a stimulating conversation about the possibility of alien life.

3:25pm:  Finally, the school day is over!  Started acting a total fool the moment I made eye contact with Mom at pick-up.  It is taking every ounce of self-control I can muster to behave like an angel all day, but seeing the fruit of my labor is worth every hardship:  that defeated look on Mom's face when every single adult with whom I've come into contact beams to her about how well-mannered and calm I am when she's not around....well, you just can't buy that in a store. 

4:30pm:  Wild Kratts time.  Man, I wish I had a power suit.  I'd totally turn myself into a whale.  Or a shark.  Or a spider.  The possibilities are endless.  Anyhoo, I noticed that Mom was trying to concentrate on her book while I was watching the show, so I made sure to hit the rewind button about every 10 seconds, shouting, "Mommy, LOOK!" repeatedly until she did.  Seriously, how can she read a book while the Kratt Bros are on an adventure...?  I'll make it my personal mission to culture a love for awesomeness in her, even if I die trying.

6:30pm.  Dinner.  What is it with adults and their obsession with eating?  As soon as Dad came home, he and Mom teamed up to torment me.  They insist that I must eat this gruel they call food.  Why, oh why can't I just have two pickles, four black olives, and a bag of chips and call it a day?  All of this nonsensical rambling about "balanced meals" and "you have to eat to live" and "use your fork."  Sigh.  They're monsters.  I wonder if any of my friends have to deal with this type of nagging.

7:00pm:  Yay! Bath time!  Aside from the whole getting scrubbed with soap thing, baths aren't too bad.  I've been perfecting my technique of using my eyedropper as a squirt gun over the past two weeks, and tonight I actually managed to spray water all over the far wall and door!  That's got to be at least 5 feet away!  And I was getting really consistent at hitting the doorknob right before Mom came in and confiscated the eyedroppers.  Wench.  I peed all over the entire toilet...lid, seat, handle, you name it...to punish her.

8:00pm:  Family time.  I chose Sorry, pretty much because both Mom and Dad hate that game.  I viciously sent both of them back to Start every time I drew a Sorry card, every time selecting the piece closest to home.  Totally delayed bedtime by 15 minutes.  Victory was mine.

8:45pm:  I stalled bedtime as long as possible, but every day must come to an end...even the great ones.  I supervised to make sure Mom got my bedtime routine done to my liking...had to remind her of the correct placement of my dreamlight again.  Seriously, how hard can it be to remember to align the stars on my ceiling so that none touch the fan?  I didn't like her tone of voice when she said our night-night farewell, so I made her do it three times.  Then, for good measure, and because I kinda missed her face, I called her back down the hallway approximately three minutes after she got comfortable on the couch.  Told her a random fact about crickets, and then got another hug and kiss.  You know, she really is a good mom.  I just have to be patient with her, and as time passes, I'll have her trained.  


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie...in a Skillet

For all of you super observant readers, yes, I may have overcooked the biscuits a tad.  That's okay...a little extra flavor.
Raise your hand if you love doing dishes!  Anybody?  Didn't think so.  That's why I love this dinner.  One skillet, and done.

I totally made it up one day when I only had random stuff in the pantry and didn't want to go to the store (I know I've mentioned this before, but I loathe grocery shopping).  I always serve this dish with buttermilk biscuits that we tear into pieces and crumble on top, but it would also be delicious served with egg noodles stirred in!

Ingredients:
olive oil
skinless, boneless chicken thigh strips (I just create a solid layer over the entire surface of the skillet)
1-2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can sliced carrots, drained
3-4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2-1 cup chicken broth (to desired thickness)
1 tbsp dried parsley
1-2 tsp rotisserie chicken seasoning (to taste)
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 10-count package of buttermilk bisquits, prepared as directed or 1 cup egg noodles, cooked

In large covered skillet, heat chicken, onion, celery, and garlic in about 2 tbsp olive oil until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender.  Use wooden spatula to cut chicken into bite-sized pieces (or remove from skillet and chop if needed).  Add carrots, corn and peas, then season with rotisserie chicken seasoning and celery salt, stirring to mix.  Cook covered until heated through.  Add cream of chicken soup, broth, and parsley.  If consistency isn't as thick as you'd like, you can sift a tablespoon or two of flour over mixture,stirring in thoroughly.  Let simmer until heated through.

Serve in bowls with bisquits on the side.  Or, if you opted to go the noodle route, add the cooked noodles to the mixture, stir, then serve.

Not counting the bisquits or the noodles, this makes about 4 servings at about 25 carbs each.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Menu Planning:: Grocery List Cards

In November, I was blessed to be at a women's event at which Sarah Roe was the guest speaker.  She shared her knowledge of couponing and price-matching in a very concise, easy-to-understand way...even for me...and some things that have never made sense to me started to click.  Then, a few weeks later, her sister Kristy Still of Mommy Hates Cooking just so happened to be the guest speaker at my MOPS group meeting!  Kristy taught us all about her menu planning methods, and combined with Sarah's money-saving wisdom, I felt ready to tackle the grocery store!

Both suggested shopping for at least a week at a time in order to lessen the number of trips to the store (because we all know how going into the store for one thing always leads to a basketful of stuff we don't need).  Well, I've always shopped for two weeks at a time to coincide with the hubby's pay periods, and I despise grocery shopping so much that I rarely go into the store between trips.  So, hurdle one down.

Both also pointed out the importance of a list, and how sticking with that list makes all of the difference.  Seems like a simple enough task, right?  Well, I'm the most scatterbrained human I know, and I am not kidding when I say that while writing a grocery list, if hot dogs is on the menu, I'd forget to write down hot dog buns.  And anyone who's ever had to eat bun-less hot dogs for dinner will tell you that just ain't right.

Since I'm a ninny, I devised a foolproof plan for writing up my meal-planning grocery list.  Pre-written lists for each meal.  I even include how many nights we'll have each menu item, plus a carb count if I have it, to make choosing the two weeks of meals a little less complicated, too.  I just hand the entire deck of index cards to Jason and let him choose enough dinners to add up to 14 meals.  Then, the only list you have to make before shopping is for non-food items and any snacks or desserts, and lunches.  If you tend to always buy the exact same items in any of those categories, it wouldn't hurt to write up an extra card including those items that you purchase every time, too!

The majority of the meals in my repertoire make leftovers, so we have them two nights in a row.  And since we have to count carbs for my diabetic hubby, I always record the carbs per serving on the cards of meals I've counted out.  I generally have tons of condiments and spices on hand, but if a particular meal requires an oddball item, I'll record it on the card, too, so that I know to double check my pantry before shopping.
I know they look like recipe cards, but they're not.  Ironically, I have a fairly decent memory for cooking, and rarely follow a recipe the same way twice...and I don't measure anything.  I don't record on the cards anything that is a staple item that I always have on hand....spices, flour, condiments, oil, garlic, butter, etc.  Because I replenish those items regularly anyway, and the less clutter on the cards, the better.  I'm sure you noticed, but I color code the items by category so that while I'm shopping, all I have to do when I'm in the meat department is flip through the cards and make sure I've got all of the meats, and so on and so forth for produce, cans, etc.

Another way to code the cards that you may find useful:  denote with a little clock any meals that are super-quick to make, and a dollar sign any that are super-cheap!  Because if you're like us, there are weeks that we need quick and cheap.

This is just the OCD in me, but I always record the items for each meal in the exact same order.  It just helps to keep me from inadvertently skipping a category when I'm harried or not paying attention.
Wanna make your own cards?  Just grab a deck of large index cards, and a handful of colored pens.  Personally, my mind can only handle a few categories, so a couple of mine are very broad.  For example, the orange includes bread, pasta, rice, grains, dried beans, tortillas, pastries, bagels, chips....see what I mean.  But because I know what is in that category, it works for me.  You get as creative and crazy as you want.  As for me, I'm all stocked up on crazy.

It'll be worth the hand cramp, I promise.  Not having to remember every single item for each recipe is such a wonderful thing...for me at least!

Once you've got a stack of cards, you can store them in your recipe box, or if you're a binder girl like Kristy and Sarah, the cards fit conveniently into 4x6 photo sleeves!  You could put a few sheets of these sleeves at the front of your binder (or buy one of those cheap little brag books) and place the cards for that shopping trip in them.  Then, you can use a dry-erase marker to check off items as you add them to your cart!  You can even slip any coupons you have for each meal into that sleeve behind the card, and note any price matches!

If you haven't already, I highly recommend you go check out both Kristy and Sarah's sites via the links in the opening paragraph!  Both girls have a heart for God, and readily share wonderful recipes and thrifty ideas!  Sarah has another site for food allergy recipes in addition to her regular blog, and Kristy's recipes are always easy, fast, and delicious!




Saturday, January 11, 2014

Box Robot

I love projects that are fairly open-ended for Wyatt.  This little box robot was a good mix of follow-the-instructions and make-it-up-as-you-go.  We found it for him at Hobby Lobby when we were on our toy-free Christmas quest, although it just occurred to me that it ended up being a toy for all intents and purposes.  No matter...it taught him a little about electric motors and allowed him to be creative. 

Just a box.  Or, is it...?
 The assembly was actually quite simple, and I pretty much just let Wyatt do it all.  He didn't have enough muscle to wrench down the screws tight enough or slide the "feet" onto the axle, so I lent him my guns for those couple of things, but otherwise, he truly made it all on his own!

Connecting the battery wires to the motor wires.

Adding the motor cover and installing the battery.  I assisted in the placement of the motor plate into the box.


Now that all of the technical stuff was done, Wyatt's imagination was set free!  He put a lot of thought into the design of his robot, but in the end, decided to mimic the example provided on the instruction sheet.  Not an exact replica...he added his own flair.

After the robot was finally all decked out with bells and whistles (and knobs and levers), we finally got to set him loose!
It works!  And it's fast!
I just noticed they share the same gap in their upper front teeth.  How adorable.
Because I let him do most of the work, and because he enjoyed the design part so much, this little project took up about half an hour.  It was totally worth the $9 we spent on it! 

Black Bean and Bacon Soup

It dawned on me recently that although my crockpot and I are well-acquainted, we don't hang out as often as we ought.  And there's something so magical about leaving the house in the morning smelling all house-like, only to return to the euphoric aromas of dinner waiting to be devoured.  So, she (because all crockpots are girls, I think) and I have decided on at least a once-per-week get-together.

This week, I altered a recipe from my new Fix it and Forget it cookbook that my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas.  It's only slightly altered...mostly because when I saw what a ham hock was in person, I opted for something more familiar that actually looked edible....and because I tend to like things a little spicy and southwest-y.



Here's the recipe.  All ingredients in bold are in my version, and any omissions of original to my version are noted.

2 cups dry black beans
4-6 cups water (my cooker is small, so I used 3 cups, adding more throughout the day if needed)
2 small onions, chopped (I used 1 huge onion)
3 cloves minced garlic (or more, if you're like me)
2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tub of Knorr concentrated chicken stock
2 bay leaves (I omitted these)
1 ham hock (Uh, go look at a ham hock.  Then you'll understand why I substituted just under 2lbs of thick sliced bacon)
1 can rotel
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 green bell pepper, chopped (I omitted this, too)

1. Either presoak the beans overnight, or do the quick soak method as directed on the bag.  I always quick soak beans, and let them stand for about an hour before using them in recipes.  Pour off the soak water.
2.  Pour beans into your cooker, adding the water.  Before doing so, this is a good time to add a slow cooker liner if you haven't already.  You're welcome.
3.  Add onions, garlic, tub of stock, and spices, along with can of rotel.  Stir well.
4.  Add the bacon (or ham hock) and slightly submerge.  I cut the bacon strips in half length-wise and broke the sliced meat into several large chunks before doing so and spread them out in the cooker.
5.  Cover.  Cook on low for 9-11 hours, or high for 5-7 hours, or until the meat and beans are tender.
6.  If you're following the original recipe, about 30 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the chopped bell pepper.  For me, this is when I add the cilantro, stirring it in.
7.  At the end of the cooking time, if you used the ham hock, remove it and tear or cut the meat from the bone (discard the bone) and add the meat back to the soup.  If you used the bacon, it should be in small enough bits already.

You can eat it as is, or you can serve it over rice.  Personally, I think it'd be scrumptious with a side of cornbread.

I loved this dinner.  It was really flavorful and delicious.  And since I barely did anything to prepare it or clean up after it, I'd have it a million more times.  My hubby didn't like the texture of the bacon, so next time I'll probably use some other kind of ham, and he took the opportunity to tell me for the first time ever that black beans are his least favorite variety.  So next time, I may add a couple other types to mitigate...like pinto and great northern or navy.

Because we have to count carbs at our house (my hubby is diabetic), I figured that out and I'll share with you.  For calculating purposes, I'm assuming we will have this two nights, and that each serving will be approximately 1/4 of the total batch, so that's where I'm getting my numbers in case you're wondering.  Also, I'm not including any rice or sides...just the soup.

2 cups black beans = 176 carbs - 20 dietary fiber = 156 total carbs
1 can rotel (mild) = 12.5 carbs
Grand Carb Total = 168.5
Divided into 4 equal servings = about 42 carbs per bowl

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Free-decorating

I'm one of those "eclectic" girls.  Which is a polite way of saying that none of my belongings technically go together, being pulled from different eras, color palettes, and genres.  And this is due mostly to the fact that the vast majority of what I own has been collected over the years from thrift stores, resale shops, and garage sales.  I never really consider whether something is going to "go" with my existing decor before I snatch it up, I just buy what I like, and I typically like oddball little pieces.

A couple of days ago, after taking down all of my Christmas decorations, I got the serious itch to start all over with all of my bookshelves, entertainment center, couch/entry table, and piano top.  I mean, I had already removed almost everything from them already to decorate for Christmas, so why not just take everything else off, too, and start fresh?  Rather than go out and buy more stuff, I just pulled down the boxes of randomness from the attic, and raked every single thing from aforementioned surfaces, creating massive piles all over my living room floor from which to "shop."

Off to Wyatt's room with this mess.  No more kid storage in the living room...he's seven now, it's time for his stuff to be in his room.

I've got a lot of "smalls," as Mike and Frank would say (The American Pickers).

I'll read them all...someday.  I buy a lot of books at thrift stores and garage sales...
Once the shelves were totally empty, I started with the built-in first because it's one of the main focal points of the living room.  I have a couple of oil paintings that I bought for a dollar apiece that I really love to featured there, and I recently found an antique geometric terrarium, for which I plan to buy some succulents.  Because I've developed the bad habit of using the basket as a catch-all for random junk, I got rid of it.  And with all of Wyatt's junk gone, I could actually put a great deal of books on the shelves...imagine that, a bookshelf full of books.  Sprinkled throughout are little chunks of rocks we've found on excursions, antler sheds, sea shells, etc. that remind us of time spent together.  Yeah, it's still cluttered, and it's not going to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but I like it!  I'm toying with the idea of using my Cricut to make a decal for some of the negative space in the uppermost shelf...perhaps, "Love lives here."

Once done with the built-in, I moved to the couch/entry table.  The front half of my house is one huge gaping room.  If I'm honest, I kinda hate that.  I personally love the old Victorian and craftsman homes which have many smaller rooms that each have a distinct identity and purpose.  The hubby and I are considering having a contractor out to slap up a few walls to remedy the situation.  Anyhoo...back to what we were talking about:  the couch/entry table that greets everyone.  It was a total blank slate after removing my Christmas decor, so I just kept it super simple and as unclutterered as I could manage.  A couple of my favorite pics, our daily scripture flipcard, and some crazy eucalyptus...which I don't particularly like, and may replace with willow branches soon.
You can barely see it here, but one of my favorite things around our house are the little soap dishes...this one is a pheasant...that hold tiny little rocks, shells, or acorns that Wyatt discovers.
Next I moved over to the "office," which is in quotations because of the whole it's-in-my-living-room-so-is-it-really-an-office dilemma.  I need those extra walls, and the sooner, the better.  Now, before I share these next few pics, please don't judge the mess on the desk, nor the whole Sci-Fi action we've got going on...my husband lives here, too, so he needs some representin'.  I love it because he loves it, and I love him.
Oy.  This is the ultimate catch-all shelf.  All of my photography office stuff gets shoved here, along with any new trinkets or books.  Don't know why I do that.  It cleaned up nice, though!

Didn't change much.  But it's been dusted now, which is a small victory.  Now, to convince the Mister to throw away the sea of papers (read: trash) on the top that I'm not allowed to touch (because I throw away "important" stuff, apparently).

So, still super geek, but tidier.  This particular shelf is set in the corner, and it's behind the desk, so it isn't as easily seen unless you're deliberately trying to see it...hence all of the ugly little paperbacks made their way here.  I'll probably layer a few picture frames in front of them later to further hide the rainbow nightmare.

Lastly, I put the mantle back to pretty much what it was before, and added the leftover picture frames to the piano top and entertainment center.  I don't know who started it, but a million picture frames just belong on top of pianos.  I didn't snap a pic of the piano or entertainment center...it's not inspiring in the least...just a plain ol' arrangement of frames. I think I'm going to beef both up this spring when garage sales start popping up again.  But, here's my mantle, in case you're interested:
I need to order an updated family portrait for the frame..this was last year's.

Well, I hope that didn't bore you to tears!  I just wanted to show how rearranging elements you already own, along with tidying up a bit, can really change things up!  I keep adding to my collection of odds and ends, so I have to do this periodically (at least once a year) as new things are acquired.  I've also opted for a much more minimal approach at times, storing a huge percentage of stuff in my attic long enough to forget about it, which is really great because it's like getting all new stuff!  Without spending a dime!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Thinking Oustide of the Toy Box

My home is a veritable toy mecca.  If you didn't know any better, you'd think I run an in-home daycare here.  We have toys, puzzles, games, craft supplies, and building sets spread over every horizontal surface.  It is insanity.  What's more disturbing, though, is that an only-child lives here.  Yup, that's right, my one child has his own personal toy store at his disposal.

I could totally play the blame game...my mom is absolutely psychotic when it comes to showering this kid with an exorbitant amount of gifts for no other reason than she loves him...but honestly, it's our home, so the buck stops with us.  Boundaries have been put into place which limit the inflow of toys, but Wyatt's been here seven years, so we've got quite the collection.  Crazy thing is, Wyatt isn't a typical kid.  He has the handful of toys that get play time on a regular basis, but he spends the majority of his time playing with paper, crayons, scissors, and tape. Or reading.


Several times throughout the year, I dump all of the bins into a big pile, sorting them back into their categorized bins and chucking junk and broken toys into the garbage.  Going into this holiday season, Wyatt's Christmas wish list grew with every commercial break.  This was the first year he'd ever had a tone of greed and expectation in his wanting.  It kind of threw me for a loop, since historically he's been a super content, generous dude.  It was purge time again just before Thanksgiving, so I asked him to pick four toys to donate.  Four.  And I didn't set any limits on size or caliber.  I knew we were taking baby steps...so I allowed the possibility that he'd pick two pair of the fleet of hotwheels he owns and call it a day.  But he couldn't.  Could not choose four measly toys.  So I gave him multiple opportunities over the next couple of weeks.  And he still couldn't choose four.

That scared me a little.  So, I reduced his toys by about 40% while he was at school one day, donating everything, and he never noticed.  Still hasn't.  Jason and I discussed it, and decided that this was going to be a "no toys" Christmas.  That did not mean Wyatt wouldn't get gifts for Christmas, just that none of the gifts would be toys.  That decision also affected what we told other people to consider for his gifts.  I've got to be honest, it was difficult to think outside of the toy box.  But I'm so glad we did.


We walked the aisles of Hobby Lobby one day, and discovered Wyatt's utopia.  Tablets of graphing and tracing paper, scratch art paper, washi tape, fun scissors, science-oriented craft projects, an oragami set, educational puzzles and books, DIY robots, and the so-far-most-played-with-item: eye droppers.   We spent far less money, but he had a massive pile of gifts under the tree...all of which were opened with squeals of delight.  And not a mention yet of the lack of new toys.  Score one for the parents!

Wyatt's birthday is 11 days after Christmas, and we decided to let him have one toy of his choice in addition to the experience gift we gave him (the Monster Truck Show), so we took him to Toys R Us.  The three of us walked every aisle, twice.  On the first pass, he found a big toy boat playset that can be reconfigured into an endless variety of vehicles.  None of the toys that Jason or I pointed out or would've chosen on our own were given a second glance.  We made the rounds again, and that boat was literally the only thing in the entire toy store that he wanted.  The lesson sank in just a tad deeper for the both of us.  He is content to use his imagination.  He enjoys being creative.  He is not as toy-hungry as we thought.


So, going forward, our no-toy policy will remain in effect for Christmas, and he'll get one toy of his choice for his birthday.  Throughout the year, we will be paring down and/or donating on a regular basis as usual, but from now on, Wyatt will be involved in the process.  And the whittling will extend to the two of us as well.  We have plenty of excess of our own.  What use is any of this stuff just sitting on a shelf, collecting dust, when it could be blessing others?  It's so easy to look at Wyatt's mess and be overwhelmed...mainly because he displays it so tangibly all over the house...but if we're going to drive the point home, we need to show him by example. 

You know what that means...?  You'll want to come to our garage sale this spring, or hit the resale shop for the leftovers afterward.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why facebook is the Murderer of Love

I vividly remember the day I went to facebook's log-in screen for the first time. I had a myspace account, but all of the cool kids were switching over to facebook and closing down their myspace.  Always the conformist, I followed suit.  I recall being mildly annoyed with the format, but I thought it was neat that I could see a continual feed of everyone's statuses.  I had no idea then how much of my time would be wasted on that site, nor how much grief would come from it, or I may have never signed up. 

I propose that, regardless of Zuckerberg's original intentions for the site, facebook has indeed become the murderer of love.  Okay, so maybe that's a tad dramatic, but it sounded good when Kate Hudson said it in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. The following are a few reasons why I believe facebook (and to be fair, other social media, too) is degrading the human experience:

1.  The original purpose has been lost.
Facebook is supposed to be for finding and staying connected in a meaningful way with friends...?  Yes..?  Okay, let me play out this scenario for you and see if it rings true:  You're at the mall shopping and run into an old friend you haven't seen in ages.  It's like no time has passed, and you are excited to reconnect with this person.  So you go find them on facebook, spend five minutes creeping on their page looking at photos of their life and reading random statuses from the past few weeks to get a feel for what they're up to nowadays.  Then, you move on.  And probably only communicate with that person again when they post a funny status or a pretty picture, and even then the extent of your reaching out to them is a "like."  You likely never go out of your way to message, text, or call them.  You likely never send them a card in the mail (yes, people still do that!) or meet them for lunch.  All of the sudden, a periodic trivial glance into their life at a very superficial level is enough for you.  Which leads to point number two...

2.  Perpetual Superficiality.
All you know of anyone on facebook is what they're willing to share.  And a lot of the time, it's not total truth.  Rarely does anyone get into discussions of much depth, and when they do, the conversations typically get really vicious because so many people are emboldened by being hidden behind the anonymity of a computer screen.  As a result, all you get from a huge percentage of your friends is the clean vanilla version of themselves.  Or, you get their false persona.

3.  False Personas

We all have a false persona on facebook.  There's something about putting something down in type for everyone to read that encourages one to edit their life a tad.  You know, so you sound a little less neurotic, a lot less at fault, a little more awesome, a lot more put together and interesting.  And then your ego is stroked when people validate your awesomeness with a cute little emoticon or a "like."  So you keep on putting out the version of you that is more presentable, more edited, instead of the big ol' goober that you really are (I can't just be speaking for myself here...).  After a while, such affirmation of your rad-factor becomes addicting, and you find yourself checking in on facebook every time a notification pops up on your phone or toolbar.  And before you know it, you're spending countless hours of your life with total strangers, face buried deep in your cell phone or monitor, instead of actually engaging with the people right in front of you, who apparently like the real you, flaws and all.  Not cool.

4. Disequilibrium
My last point is a really big word for everything is out of whack.  Because so many facebook users are on a ridiculous quest to rack up as many "friends" as humanly possible, a lot of us hide certain people from our news feed so we don't have to see what their cat ate for lunch or hear about their toddlers bowel movements anymore.  But those persons hidden from our feeds can still see our posts unless we've hand chosen them not to have that visibility, and in most cases, we don't bother to go that extra step.  Don't forget the possibility that you are the one hidden from someone's feed...you knew that all of those candy crush updates would eventually catch up with you someday...so now you have access to someone's life that doesn't want you in theirs.  I daresay that now we all know what it's like to be a celebrity.  There are people out there in the world that you wouldn't recognize if they were standing right in front of you at the grocery store, but they know what the inside of your home looks like, what your dog's name is, what you ate for dinner last night, and your opinion on just about every trivial thing that's popped up in your feed.  Or, even scarier, maybe YOU are the creep that knows too much about some poor unsuspecting soul.  Which leads me to a really great question my hubby asked:  "Why on earth would you keep someone as a friend on facebook if you have to change the settings to keep that person from seeing your posts or pictures, or to keep you from seeing theirs?"  Dwell on that for a minute, then let me wrap this puppy up.

Am I making a generality and saying that facebook is altogether evil and we should all grab our torches and pitchforks?  No.  Am I suggesting that everyone who is on facebook is mindless and, having been hypnotized by its gyrations, cannot break away to feed their children or do a load of laundry?  Of course not.  All I'm saying is that substituting the pathetically shallow experience on facebook for the immensely enriching engagement of a face-to-face human is a heart-breaking reality that more and more people are choosing.  The human race is forgetting how to interact with one another in a meaningful way.  Everywhere you go, the masses have their gazes fixed on a screen while a flesh-and-blood person is within arm's reach, being completely ignored.  And it's becoming completely acceptable.  And that, my friends, is appalling.

So, what are we going to do about it?  God created us for relationships.  Real relationships.  So put down the phone if there is another person with you, and set limits on your computer screen-time.  All by yourself..?  Now you can pick up the phone...to call someone and have one of those conversation thingies you've heard your grandma talk about.  Or better yet, make plans for a lunch date and find out what someone's voice and hand gestures are like when they're super excited to tell you about something really cool in their life.  It'll be hard at first, but the reward will outweigh any risk, I promise.  Because your real friend list will gain a few tally marks...ones that aren't a click away from nonexistence.




Thursday, January 2, 2014

The difference a day makes



I don't know what it is about a new year that is so inspirational.  In all reality, the first day of January doesn't hold any intrinsic magical powers that the last day of December lacks.  But the idea of a blank slate, a clean start, is so appealing.  We have a bookmark in time with each new year, and we can use those recently spent 365 days as a measuring stick to gauge where we are emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When I look back at 2013 personally, I am especially grateful for a fresh opportunity to make deliberate changes.  Twenty-thirteen was a very bizarre year for me.  I spent much of it in an emotional haze, unable, and sometimes unwilling, to focus on anything with a purposed mind.  My old companion, Depression, did her best to weasel her way back into my heart, and it took everything inside of me to lock her out.  I didn't spend much time in the Word of God this year, either, and what time I did was very easily distracted.  I chose more face-time with my computer or phone screen than with the living, breathing loves-of-my-life.  I consistently agreed to do all kinds of things to help other people...things that while on the outside looked admirable, were not done with a cheerful heart or the proper motive, and therefore were not the blessing that they should have been.  I'm a photographer, and I barely documented my little family's life last year.  The one failure in particular that niggles at me more than all of the rest...I did not put God, my husband, and my beautiful boy ahead of my self.  I gave last year to my self, and ironically, rather than the satiating happy-fest I've always imagined such selfishness to be, it was miserable and had dire consequences in several of my most cherished relationships.

As you can imagine, reality slapped me hard across the face a few months ago.  And sadness.  I was sitting quietly in my home, watching my sweet son entertain himself, and was a little taken aback by how much he's grown this year.  His face looks different.  He's losing the pudginess of babyhood, and is starting to discover his true passions.  He has an incredibly unique mind, and a tender heart.  He's hilarious.  And I've been missing it because I'd rather spend countless hours pinning clothes I'll never wear, recipes I'll never cook, and quotes whose advice I'll never follow.  Or worse, nosing into the lives of people I only superficially know, some of whom by name alone, by scrolling down the endless feed of on facebook, which consists primarily of negativity and the trivial.  Wow.  Talk about an epiphany.  I spend more time with strangers than my own child.  Not to mention my incredible husband, who selflessly gives all of himself to the both of us, even while returning home most days after an exhausting 10-hour workday.  He doesn't have a facebook account at all because, after having one for less than a year, he felt convicted about the amount of time it took from us.  Yikes.

So, over the last couple of months, I've been praying and thinking, and I've come up with a plan.  A plan to love deliberately.  A plan to stop fostering the countless perpetually superficial relationships in my life, and start developing true, deep friendships with the small handful of real-life connections in my life.  A plan to give the majority of my time to God (it's all His anyway), and as He stretches my remaining minutes, to give those to my two loves at home, then the rest to whom He directs me.  And what time He gives me for myself will be constructive.

Here's the plan:
I'm prioritizing God and my family above all else.  This means that there are going to be many days on my calendar that are off-limits to anyone who doesn't share my last name or my heart.  No more squeezing in as many things as I possibly can to avoid putting the focus where it needs to be.  And I will be purposefully in the Word.

I'm deleting the majority of my "friends list" from my personal account.  Eliminating the temptation of time-sucking-curiosity being my primary goal.  I don't know many of these people well enough to be given a free pass into their personal lives, and likewise, they don't know me.  We know of each other, but that's not the same.   

I'm uninstalling facebook from my phone.  No more being distracted by the siren's call of notifications all day.  Because I have a business page, I'll leave the pages manager, but it'll be checked sparingly. 

I'm giving my time deliberately and cheerfully.  Before I say yes to anything, I'm going to think it through and figure out what my motive would be for doing so.  What/who am I taking time away from in order to do this thing..?  Is it a fair exchange, and do I have the right heart to bless someone by doing so?

I'm going to be deliberate in choosing my attitude every day.  It's way too easy for me to get irritated and let insignificant things annoy the tar out of me.  And it's a slippery slope.  Once one negative thought gets its foot in the door, it invites its friends.  So I will be internally chanting, "only love today" in perpetuity until it comes naturally and joyfully.

Looking forward into the newborn year, there is no way to imagine what is in store for all of us, but this one thing I do know for sure:  this will be the year that I choose love over everything else.