Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I hate to admit it, but I think I might be more excited about Halloween than the kids are. Ok, so that's not such a shocker. They get excited, sure, but they know nothing about Halloween and they're too little to understand costumes and candy.
Mommy, on the other hand, gets to dress up kiddos and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters for the very first time ever. Yep, you read that right. I have never had a kid ring my doorbell and ask for candy. This is partly because we've lived in apartments since we were married and partly because I grew up in a neighborhood with no other kids. This year, though, we live in a house and there are LOTS of kids. So we are prepared. I think we have enough candy to last at least 35 minutes.
We have costumes, too. Well, the girls and I have costumes. Emily is a lion, Erin is an elephant, and I have a milkmaid/Dutch girl costume. I guess it'll have to be the Dutch girl, since I don't have a milk can, but it's still a pretty great costume. It meets my requirements: comfy and warm, since it's pouring here today, and it isn't one of those ridiculous little dresses that no one really feels comfortable wearing. Don't get me started on those!
The girls' costumes are a combination of luck and diligent searching. At our twins' club garage sale last spring, before the girls were even born, I found the lion costume. I figured a 3-month size would fit decently by the end of October (I was 34+ weeks at that point, so we knew the girls were going to be reasonably sized) and so I bought it. Three dollars. Around the middle of September, I realized we only had one costume. We figured we'd look for another jungle animal, since those tend to be snuggly warm suits, but everything I saw was at least ten times what I'd paid for the lion costume. I couldn't see the point in anyone spending that kind of money on something that would be worn for just a few hours at best. We still wanted both girls to have a costume, though, so we kept looking.
One day, my mom called and said she'd found the perfect costume! She asked what size we needed and brought it by our house. It was an elephant suit, with a pink shirt and pink-and-white striped tights for underneath. The shirt and tights are perfect for wearing under a little denim overall dress later on, and they make it a nice warm costume. We haven't managed to get Erin to smile while wearing the costume, but she has only cried once, so we figure she doesn't mind too much.

Emily the lion and Erin the elephant. (Mommy is waving a monkey puppet to get that enthusiastic reaction)

I decided to take advantage of their good-natured morning (they went 8 hours between feedings last night, so they slept pretty well!) and dress them up early for pictures. After all, what's the point of blogging about baby costumes with no pictures?! For some reason, the girls always frown at the sight of me taking a picture with my phone, so I have to distract them into smiling, but we got at least one good shot. After I took this picture, I decided to take Erin in and get her dressed for the day before they took their morning nap. I took the elephant suit off so it wouldn't get anything on it and left it on the blanket with Emily.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Apparently, Emily decided that her sister's costume looked like a tasty snack. I swear I feed my kids. In fact, they'd just eaten about twenty minutes before I took these pictures! 

I took a picture immediately, though, just to use the above caption.

I don't know if that's a good sign or not.

I think Halloween is really a holiday that parents enjoy more than anyone - it's like the whole Santa and Easter bunny idea (as an accessory to the holiday itself), where you get to make something kind of magical for your kids. You get to dress them up and give them candy. You can make fun, creative holiday food. I kid you not, I've looked forward to this aspect of parenthood for well over a decade. I've said it before, but it really doesn't get any better than this.

 Happy Halloween, everybody!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Make it Count Monday

Ah, Monday. The beginning of the week. A fresh, new start to things. Theoretically, I love this chance to start over and try again. I find myself fantasizing about a week of wonderful meals, a clean house, fun family time, and chores that get completed as needed instead of piling up day after day.

Yeah. I said I was fantasizing. Well, enter the idea of goal-setting. I've written about this a little bit before, but I'm jumping on the bandwagon again. This week, my goal is to quit procrastinating. Oftentimes, I find myself so overwhelmed with things that need to be done - that I just don't do anything. Well, I don't do anything productive. I sit and play with the girls on the floor (when they are happy just playing with each other), or waste a few free minutes on Facebook or Twitter, or watch TV. Ten minutes doesn't seem like much, but over the course of the day, six ten-minute chunks add up to a whole hour.

This is significant because I frequently spend at least an hour getting the house sorted out after the girls are in bed. This is fine, since they usually go to bed around 8, but when I have also worked that day or it's just been a long day, I sometimes don't get to bed until close to midnight. The girls typically wake up once per night, around 4-6 am, and then get up for good around 6-7 am depending on their night feeding. I'm getting a lot more sleep than I was, but I'm still one exhausted momma most of the time! And then there are the nights that I just go to bed and don't do anything for the poor house...yeah. We won't talk about those nights (and the mornings that follow!)

So for this week, I've decided to make use of the 10-minute chunks as they come throughout the day. I've got a list of tasks that can be completed in just a few minutes whenever I've got a small amount of free time:

1. Clean bathroom sink

2. Load dishwasher

3. Load washer

4. Empty washer into dryer

5. Unload dryer

6. Fold basket of laundry

7. Eat a snack (I have trouble remembering to eat!)

8. Swiffer floor

9. Clutter sweep in living room

10. Clean up kitchen counters

11. Make a grocery list

12. Jot down blog post ideas

13. Stretch

14. Refill diaper drawer

15. Start dinner prep

There is a lot of laundry on that list, but since laundry is one of the most overwhelming and time-consuming tasks I have, I like to make use of small chunks of time so I can stay somewhat caught up. By somewhat caught up, I of course mean that I can dress two babies by digging through a pile of clean, folded baby clothes (still in their laundry basket) instead of digging through the dryer while holding a squirming, diaper-clad baby. I don't expect that I'll ever get all of these done in one day, but I think the list will help keep me focused and help me make better use of the time I do have.

I'm pretty excited about the possibilities here. I'll let you know if it works! If it does, I will probably make some sort of picture-frame dry-erase list for myself to make it fun. How do you make use of small chunks of time?

I'm linking up with Megan over at Positively (Im)perfect for Make it Count Mondays! Head on over and check out her goal-setting post for the week, and don't forget to check out all the other posts while you're there!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What I Wore Sunday, Vol. 1

I'm very excited to be linking up with Kendra and Emily over at Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday, a new link-up where we can share what we wear to church! This is a really fun idea. I've always loved hearing about how women (and men!) used to dress up in their very best clothes every Sunday. Some people still do that, but I haven't really attempted to up until fairly recently. One reason was simply that I had no idea what people my age wore to church, other than the ones I saw, and most of them didn't dress up or wore inappropriate, trendy clothes. I think this is a great way to share ideas and remember how important it is to show respect by dressing nicely as we worship God.

On the front steps after Mass today.
There are a few significant challenges when it comes to getting dressed for church these days. One, I feel like it's more important to dress attractively, as we tend to get more attention because of the babies. Not that I didn't place a priority on dressing nicely before, but since I don't wear dressy clothes for anything but church, I could never really justify buying a lot of them. As a result, I don't have more than a handful of options (I'm currently working on that!). In addition, I have to wear a top that is nursing-friendly, so that narrows the field further still.

Today, I was able to create an outfit from clothes I already had in the closet: a blue and white striped blouse with a ruffled front, a gray pull-on skirt, and black leather ballet flats. I am on the hunt for new church clothes, but I want to make as much use of what I've got as possible, so this made me very happy!

The skirt is perfect right now because it is soft and stretchy and still fits over my tummy without making me feel self-conscious (see last week's modesty post for why this is so important). It doesn't keep my blouse tucked in as well as I'd like, but it definitely works for now. The blouse buttons up the front, so it makes it easy to feed the babies as necessary, and the ruffle detail at the collar makes it less stuffy than your average button-down. The shoes are leather and very comfortable, so I tend to wear them any time I'm dressing up and can't or don't want to wear heels. Leather shoes are essential for Oregon winters - in case you hadn't heard, it rains every so often around here ;) - so you can keep your feet somewhat dry on wet days like today. These have a knot at the front, which, like the ruffles on the blouse, makes something basic a bit less boring. I like clothes which accessorize themselves!

Speaking of accessorizing, I don't tend to wear much jewelry. This is partly because my daughters are in a grabby phase and partly because I don't think of it until we are about to walk out the door. I wore simple pearl stud earrings today, because they went with the white stripes on the blouse, and the silver cross necklace that I always have around my neck - I've only taken it off once since I got it. For this stage of my life, that's about as accessorized as I get! I'd like to get better at it, and I'm very much open to suggestions - leave a comment if you have ideas!

Head to toe outfit shot. (You can ignore the pump bag behind me!) Blouse, Gap (thrifted); tank, Target; skirt, Old Navy; shoes, Target; necklace and earrings, gifted.

Head on over to Fine Linen and Purple to check out the rest of the lovely ladies and what they wore today! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 19: Life is Funny Sometimes...Oh, and we got shots!

Thanks to Jen for hosting!

--- 1 ---

It's been kind of a funny week around here. We started off Monday with 4-month shots, which were the same (in theory) as the ones they got at 6 weeks. The effects here were much stronger and long lasting. Both girls cried and fussed for two days. Luckily, they still napped a little and slept reasonably well at night, but during the day they wanted to be cuddled and held. My poor babies... I can sympathize with them. Mommy got her flu shot last Friday (Emily and Erin are still too little) and my arm hurt for two full days. I felt pretty lousy for a few hours too. Better than the flu, though!

--- 2 ---

On the subject of shots, I have to keep reminding myself that good health is priceless, and definitely worth a few days of crankiness. Having parents who remember the fear of childhood diseases, I am very much in favor of vaccination for my kiddos. My dad has told us stories of polio scares - movie theaters and swimming pools shut down, kids being kept home - all because they had no idea how it was spread and how to stay healthy. The polio vaccine was life-changing. Right now, where we are, it's whooping cough that is an epidemic - even though we know how it's spread, we still have to hide from it. I don't want to go back to a world like my dad was describing. Innocent kids shouldn't have to suffer from something preventable.

--- 3 ---

Whew. That was a little serious. Let's get more lighthearted. As part of a paper for Media Ethics in college, I watched this Disney short on vaccines. It was produced during World War II, in 1943. I thought I'd share it with you all for fun (just click through the ad, it goes away):

--- 4 ---

I accomplished something major last night. I went to Target and got everything on my list! How was this done, you ask? Simple. I was talking to my brother on the phone and he reminded me what I'd said I was there for. Thanks, little bro! (And you didn't think you could help me out from 1,200 miles away!)

--- 5 ---

I'm excited for Halloween. Are you excited for Halloween? We will have trick or treaters for the first time ever! That includes all the time I was growing up - no kids in our neighborhood. So the girls and I will dress up and hand out candy. Pictures to come next week! How are you celebrating Halloween?

--- 6 ---

Yesterday marked 2 months until Christmas, speaking of countdowns!!! (Can you tell I'm a bit overexcited about this one?!) I really need to get on that gift list. What are you giving for Christmas gifts this year?

--- 7 ---

Last but not least, I posted about a fresh take on modesty this week, in case you missed it. Please read it and let me know what you think!

That's all I've got for this week. I hope you all have a great weekend!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thoroughly Thankful Thursday Link-Up, Week 4: The Reset Button

Hi everybody! I really can't believe it's Thursday already. I hope you all are having a great week!

The last week or so have been somewhat chaotic around here - I think it kind of comes with the territory; 4-month-old twins and all that. In the midst of this chaos, I've definitely slacked when it comes to being thankful for anything. Some days, it just doesn't feel like there's much to be thankful for. Take Tuesday, for example. We woke up to a freezing cold house. After some investigation, we realized the heater was off and would not turn on for any amount of persuasion. Eighty dollars later, we became acquainted with the reset button. Voilá. Heat. Simple as that. I had imagined I'd feel thankful, but I was just annoyed at the increase in the chaos factor - needing to wrap the babies in blankets for their naps, having to try and find the checkbook to pay the repairman, the fact that he showed up during the one hour I was gone. I could barely muster an ounce of gratitude for the heat.

The truth is, though, that every factor that makes life just a little more chaotic is a blessing. Being married is more complicated than being single; having children is still more hectic. Add jobs, activities, and relationships with others, and you might start to feel like you're stuck in a racquetball court, playing 1-on-20 after you've just dropped your racquet. Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I really don't think it's that far off. Yet all of these things are blessings. They fill our lives with love, and we should be thankful for them - thankful to be so busy.

Being busy feels great, up to a point. It makes us feel important and necessary. But when you get to the point where you just can't handle anything else, it's overwhelming. You just want things to be simple, and you don't really feel blessed to be so busy.

I hit this point last night. I got up to the checkout line, after a frantic trip through WinCo, trying to decide what we would eat for the next week while spending as little as possible and still getting in and out in half an hour. As an aside, this is quite possibly the most stressful way to go grocery shopping, and I absolutely do not recommend it. But back to the story. As I waited for the total to slide my debit card and begin bagging my groceries, it hit me that I was incredibly blessed to be able to pay for our food. Just that. We can afford to feed our family. Sure, money's tight, but we can buy groceries.

Like dominoes, everything else began falling into place. Blessed to have jobs, blessed to have recreation (the volleyball game Dan had last night - my reason for rushing), blessed to have children to snuggle (the reason the groceries still aren't all put away), blessed to have a house, blessed to have things to clutter up that house. Lined up neatly like that, my life felt rich and full instead of hectic and overwhelming. Sometimes all it takes is pushing the reset button. I'm thankful God remembered to include one.

Now it's your turn. What are you thankful for this week? Link up your post or share in the comments!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Musings on modesty: The Closet Project, Part 3

The modesty debate typically takes the forefront during warmer months, when the questions of "how short is too short?" and "one-piece or two-piece?" are on every Christian woman's mind. For me, those questions have fairly easy answers. I struggle more with modesty the rest of the year, to be honest. It seems like it should be easier when it's cold, right? Your natural instinct is to cover up and stay warm. But there is a big difference between merely covering your body and doing so modestly. You could be fully covered and warm in tights and a skin-tight sweater, but would that be modest?

Let me ask the question another way. Have you ever put something on and felt uncomfortable? I'm not talking about the feel of the fabric or other details that can cause discomfort. I mean how you felt, what you thought about yourself as you looked in the mirror. Did your eyes immediately move to a body part you are self-conscious about? Did you mentally resolve to eat better or exercise in order to drop a few pounds? Did you tug and pull at the fabric to try and cover yourself better?

I don't know for sure about you, but I know I've been there, and I'm willing to bet you have too. It's not a good feeling. You definitely don't want anyone to see you in that particular item or outfit. You feel exposed. You certainly don't feel beautiful. The piece of clothing in question doesn't have to be a too-short, too-tight skirt, either. It could just as easily be a lovely wool sweater that's just a bit too tight, or a pair of jeans that don't do your body justice.

There have been numerous attempts to quantify modesty over the years, but I think the above situation offers the best one I can think of: if you don't feel comfortable in it, it's not modest. Again, we aren't talking about physical discomfort (though if your outfit is that tight, it's definitely immodest!). God created us beautifully in His image, so there is nothing inherently wrong with our bodies. There is something wrong, however, with dressing in such a way that we feel overexposed and self-conscious. There’s nothing beautiful or appealing about clothing that barely covers you. The only appeal might be to the men around us, and even that is purely visceral. There is a time and place for that type of appeal, but it’s not at school, work, or while you’re walking down the street.

If you feel as though you can’t walk into just any store and find clothes that you feel comfortable buying and wearing, you’re not alone. Fashion and modesty often seem to be at odds with one another, and it’s tempting to buy and wear things that you feel uncomfortable in just to fit in. Furthermore, if a particular trend doesn’t look right on your body, it’s easy to blame yourself and want to change your body so the clothes look good. I’m pretty sure that’s not what God had in mind when He created us – “perfectly and wonderfully made”, unless we’re talking skinny jeans or halter tops. The same goes for the other extreme – feeling so ashamed of your body that you hide under shapeless layers, telling yourself that this is modesty.

There are plenty of styles that are both flattering and modest. Think about women whose style you admire. They know what looks good on them and they wear it. Almost without exception, they are attractive without being overexposed, and they don’t force themselves into things that don’t fit or flatter their unique shape. They find ways to incorporate trends while still doing their bodies justice. Most of all, they look confident, and that confidence is a beautiful thing – an accessory that never goes out of style. Modesty doesn’t have to hold you back when it comes to looking good and feeling good about how you look; it can be the very thing that leads you to dress attractively. Remember that the next time you look in the mirror.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

On being (more) organized...

I've become a little obsessed these days with the idea of organization. By obsessed, I of course mean an unfulfilled longing for something that seems less and less attainable every day. I love the feeling of knowing where everything is, being able to plan ahead and make things work. I am actually pretty good at coming up with ideas for organizing, but somehow I've always had problems making them work. This is usually due to being too tired or distracted to a) get the right things together or b) put in the extra time at first to create a new habit.

Enter the personality test. I've taken them before, and I know that they don't spell the exact parameters of you as a person, but they can offer interesting insight. My personality was defined as ENFP, and one of the descriptors was loving the creative process but balking at actual implementation. Hey....that sounds just like me!

Now that I know where the problem most likely is, I can tackle it better. Truth be told, I'm sure there are tons of disorganized people out there. The Container Store wouldn't be such a success otherwise (or maybe it would? Brain-bender there. Can't think about that right now!) So a sense of inadequacy isn't necessary - just a sense of how much the effort to get things together pays off over time. Motivation, if you will.

Example? Refilling the diaper bag before we're trying to walk out the door (hey, I guess it beats leaving the diaper bag at home altogether, right?) It doesn't seem like a big thing, but it's a habit to cultivate. The first stop when you get home is the changing table anyway, and it only takes a few extra seconds to drop a handful of diapers into the bag and take out any dirty clothes, bibs, or burp cloths and replace them. Then voila, you're ready the next time. Organization isn't necessarily extra work, it just means doing the necessary work in a more logical order. That last line might be the greatest lightbulb moment ever.

So now I'm curious. How do you go about making great ideas work for you? How do you get started? What's the best thing you've ever done to get organized? Share below in the comments!

Friday, October 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes: 4 Months!

Thanks to Jen for hosting!

--- 1 ---
It's Friday. Oh, thank goodness. I do have to work Saturday, but I'm still excited for the weekend. We have some plans with friends on Sunday, which will be a lot of fun, and a play date for the girls on Sunday as well.
--- 2 ---
Our precious girls, five days old. Emily is on the bottom and Erin is on top. 
Emily and Erin are 4 months old today! One hundred and twenty days ago (yes, I counted!) we met our beautiful baby girls. They seemed enormous. I couldn't believe that they had really been inside me. They looked a little bewildered, like they weren't sure why they were here, and they were only awake when they were hungry. The first few weeks passed in a blur of diaper changes, feedings, and an immense amount of adjustment for all four of us.
--- 3 ---
Now, they can prop themselves up and look at each other!
They have changed so much, I am constantly amazed. They are getting bigger every day. At the beginning of this week, Emily was comfortably wearing a 0-3 month onesie, and I tried on a 3-6 month size of the same onesie today and it fit fine. Erin is even bigger - she can wear 6 month tops!
--- 4 ---
I had been thinking both girls were getting very heavy, especially Erin. So I weighed them, rather unscientifically of course, by weighing myself and then myself holding each baby. To my amazement, Emily tips the scale at 14 pounds and Erin weighs in at a whopping 16! That means Emily has gained at least 7 pounds since birth and Erin has gained nearly 10! Let's hear it for the power of mama's milk (with a little supplement too, of course!)
Did I mention how big they are getting?! (Emily - L, Erin - R)

--- 5 ---
At four months, Emily and Erin can: roll from back to side, roll from back to front (Emily), roll from front to back (Emily), hold their head up while their body is supported, coo, shriek, smile, grab the hanging toys on their activity gym, and make several different simple sounds that correspond with various letters. They are very happy girls and lots of fun to be around. I am so blessed to be their mommy!
--- 6 ---
The gorgeous fall colors outside our house. See how the leaves are darker on the outer edges of the tree?

--- 7 ---
See that green stuff? Know what it is? If you let broccoli go long enough, it begins to resemble an alien life form. There's your random thought of the week.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thoroughly Thankful Thursday, Week 3

Hey, everybody! The week is really flying by. I know I'm a little late getting this up, but it's still Thursday for 9 more hours here, so here we go!

In case you're joining this for the first time, I thought it'd be fun to take a day each week and share what we're thankful for. It's so easy to just let the days and weeks go by and forget to say thank you. My life is richly blessed, and while I often find myself thinking how I'd like to change things, the truth of the matter is they're pretty good the way they are.

So without further ado, here's my list for the week:

1. Gorgeous fall color. We've only had a couple of really rainy days to knock the leaves down and turn them brown, so all of the trees are bursting into reds and yellows and oranges that aren't seen every year around here.

2. My little family. I can't imagine life without Dan, Emily, and Erin. I love you all so much!

3. The wonderful ladies of #Cathsorority. I don't know where I'd be without you all!

4. Our cute little house and how much better our life is now that we live here.

5. Help from friends and family.

6. The bits of wisdom I gain every day as a mother that make the next day just a little easier.

7. Courage to try new things.

8. Good jobs that allow us to live comfortably and still have family time.

9. God's love and forgiveness.

10. All the ways I've grown as a person since starting this blog, and every one of you lovely readers - I love writing for you, and I hope you enjoy reading as much I enjoy writing!

I can't wait to read what you're thankful for! Link your post or comment below.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Closet Project, Part 2: The Big Purge

In case you missed it, I'm cleaning out my closet! In an effort to only own clothes I wear regularly, I'm going to sell or donate my excess clothing and put together a wardrobe that works for me, here and now. I'm writing about my progressif you 'd like to follow along - just look for "The Closet Project" posts!

While going through your clothes and getting rid of what doesn't fit might seem like a strange thing to do 4 months after having a baby (or two babies!), I decided to do it anyway. At this point, I'm about 10 lbs from where I was pre-pregnancy. I'm pretty sure I can tell what fits, what will fit, and what is always going to look odd on this new body of mine. I'm not going to pretend that this isn't a bit hard on the ol' self esteem - I don't really avoid mirrors right now, but I don't linger in front of them, either - but I keep reminding myself that in order to always feel good about how I look, this needs to be done.

If you're in a similar place, I've gathered some tips that will help you get through this process quickly and efficiently, and leave you feeling good about the choices you've made. I did this (mostly) by myself, after Emily and Erin were in bed. It can be helpful to have someone there to talk you through what to keep and what to get rid of, but you need to choose your help wisely. I find that I can be more ruthless by myself when it comes to clothes - because I'm good at buying cute things, but I'm not good at buying cute things that go with other cute things. Thus, I spend a lot of time telling my helper "It is cute, but I never wear it!" to justify getting rid of something. This takes time, and causes second-guessing. Neither one of these is good when it comes to cleaning your closet. In addition, we moved a month ago, moved 6 months before that, and had moved 6 months before that. Every time we moved, I made an effort to get rid of some of my clothes.

Tip #1: Find a well-fitting top and pair of jeans (or a skirt, if that's what you wear most) for trying on items you're not sure about. If nothing in your closet fits well, start by buying something that does. (I had to go buy a top!) You want them to not just fit, but make you feel good when you look in the mirror. The last thing you want to do is stare at yourself in an outfit that doesn't fit on top or bottom - trust me on this one! In addition, it's hard to tell if your shirt fits if your jeans are too tight, and vice versa. Set these aside, where you can grab them quickly. Also, if you don't have a full-length mirror, find one (you can buy them pretty inexpensively at Target or similar stores) and hang it in your bedroom for the purposes of this project. I recommend leaving it there, either attached to the back of a door or a wall, if you've got wall space.

Tip #2: Wear shoes, whatever you wear most often. It will give you a better idea of how things really fit. If you're on the short side, like me, it will help you see if any of your pants need hemming to be wearable. I wore my Dansko clogs, which also made standing for two hours more comfortable. (Side note: if you've never heard of these shoes, I recommend giving them a try! They are great for your feet and back, and come in lots of styles. I wear mine almost all the time since I'm on my feet so much!)

Tip #3: If you're strongly sentimental about something (not everything!), keep it. Just don't go overboard. I kept an outfit I wore on our honeymoon, even though it doesn't fit perfectly right now, because I just can't bring myself to get rid of it. That's just one shirt, one tank top, a zip-up sweatshirt, and jeans (which were already being kept), though - not too much in the grand scheme of things. Don't go overboard here, and definitely don't keep everything for this reason, but cut yourself some slack when it comes to sentiment. You can always get rid of it later, but you won't be able to get it back.

I started last night by cleaning out my dresser, actually. Since we have a really tiny closet, I have a lot of my clothes in the dresser. I figured to really make this work, I'd have to clean both. I started with the messiest drawer and took everything out. As I pulled it out, I decided whether it was worth keeping or not, basing my decision on these five rules. I made two piles accordingly. If I found myself putting two similar items in the "keep" pile, I tried to pick the one that fit best and had the most wear left in it. If I wasn't sure how something fit, I tried it on, using my "control" shirt or jeans to gauge how I felt about it. If I still wasn't sure, I went and asked Dan what he thought. The process went surprisingly fast. I didn't bother folding and putting away clothes between drawers, since not everything was in the right drawer to start with. I also wanted to try to keep the two piles about even, so I needed to leave the keepers out next to the "get rid of" pile.

When I was done with the dresser, I moved on to the closet. I didn't try on any of my dresses, since I'm fairly sure they'll fit again once we wean, and because trying on dressy clothes can be time-consuming. I only have six dresses, of varying styles and materials, so they aren't a major component of my wardrobe either. I found several tops and a few pairs of jeans that weren't worth keeping, and sorted them accordingly. I didn't take everything out of the closet, because it was pretty well organized to start with (see #7) but if yours isn't, you should take your clothes out a few at a time. There are tons of resources on cleaning and organizing a closet, so I won't bore you with tips - just make sure your system makes sense to you (and your spouse, if he/she puts the laundry away!).

When I'd pared the contents of the closet down to my satisfaction, I started putting things away. I folded everything from the dresser and put it back in the appropriate drawers. For the first time since we bought it, everything fit and the drawers closed easily! I replaced a few things that actually belonged in the closet, and pulled empty hangers to the middle. (Side note: if you don't already, remove the empty hangers when you take something out of your closet - it makes putting clean clothes away much easier!) After I put away all the keepers, I folded and put away a load of laundry. I figured that would be the moment of truth, but everything fit, with a little room to spare!

I'm feeling pretty confident about the results of this first step. I still need to go through and create outfits, adding accessories as needed, and replace some pieces that are almost worn out. I have some clothes to sell, so I am planning on hitting up my favorite used clothing store to see if I can trade for some things I need. Most of all, I'm planning to make sure the "get rid of" pile finds its way out of the house quickly so it doesn't just become more clutter!

Has anybody else started cleaning out their closet? How did it go? Comment below and let me know!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On love and perfection

I've been thinking about perfection again lately, because I feel like my life has been consumed by a quest for it. I struggle with the idea that while I can try to be perfect at all of the things I need to do, I will never succeed. What's more, I often fail miserably. I want to be the perfect mom, the ideal wife, a model employee. I want to meet everyone's needs in a cheerful and timely manner. I'd love to do it effortlessly, with a smile on my face at all times.

It doesn't happen. Day after day, I find myself struggling just to maintain a reasonable order. I grow inwardly frustrated with myself, sitting in the middle of a litter of toys, blankets, pacifiers, and baby socks, cuddling a crying baby. I start the day aiming for perfection, and by day's end, I'm content to steer just shy of disaster. As the week progresses, my discouragement mounts, and my standards get a bit lower. "Home-cooked meal every night" turns to "we ate inside the four walls of our house every night". "Look like a respectable, put-together mom when we leave the house" becomes "We all have clothes on, what more do you expect?!" The lowering of standards is temporary, however, and usually correlates with sheer exhaustion. After some sleep and some more coffee, I find myself expecting perfection once more.

This might seem like a good problem to have. After all, as the saying goes, "shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." The higher you aim, the higher you'll end up. But what of the beauty in those imperfect moments? The shrieks of joy and laughter amidst the litter of toys, blankets, pacifiers, and baby socks. The meal that, while not homemade, still nourishes us. The abundance found in the never-ending pile of laundry. The two beautiful smiles that bless every oh-so-early morning. Perfection turns a blind eye to these, saying they're not good enough.

This beautiful life we live is riddled with imperfection, and I think that must be the way God wants it - after all, He created it. But when He created this imperfect world for us to live in, we were also given the perfect counter - love. Love allows us to embrace each other, despite our imperfect humanity. Love sees through the clutter, focusing instead on the tender and fleeting moments of a child's growth. Love is the only true perfection.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

I haven't quite wrapped my mind around the idea that I can seek perfection simply by learning to love perfectly as God commands us. It almost sounds too easy. My quest for perfection involves to-do lists, standards, comparisons. Tangible things. Love, on the other hand, is at once tangible and intangible. We are keenly aware of its absence, and take comfort in its presence; but there is no standard by which we can measure love. It takes a considerable amount of courage, therefore, to decide to love. To love not only others, but to love ourselves for doing the best we can. To love the beauty amidst the imperfection, and in doing so, find fleeting glimpses of perfection.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." (1 Corinthians 13:1-10)

Friday, October 12, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Volume 17: Song Lyrics Edition

I can't believe it's Friday. I'm not sure if this week has flown by or dragged, but I've just been having a really hard time figuring out what day it is. Yesterday, I was very sure it was Monday. Oh well. Maybe I had a secret yearning to start the week over again?

I have talked with people before who swear by something called "Bible roulette" - flipping the Bible open to the first random passage and looking for the meaning for them in what they read. While I was driving to work yesterday, I was thinking about how song lyrics can work the same way. Sometimes the right song just speaks to you. So, since we're looking for 7 Quick Takes, I thought I'd list the last seven songs that played on my iPod (it was on shuffle), along with a little bit about why I needed to hear each one.

--- 1 ---

Remembrance (Communion Song) - Matt Maher: "We remember You, and remembrance leads us to worship/And as we worship you, our worship leads to Communion/We respond to Your invitation, we remember You." I love thinking about Mass as remembrance. We are called to remember His sacrifice, and that is the reason for being at church on Sunday. I have a hard time matching up the feeling that stirs within me thinking about someone I have known in real life who has died with how I should feel on Sunday morning. This song helped me match up those feelings, and I am very grateful for that. It's so easy to miss the magnitude of that sacrifice, even take it for granted a little, and when it does hit me I am blown away and moved to tears every time.

--- 2 ---

Every Little Prisoner (Deliver Me) - Matt Maher: "From wanting to be loved, from wanting to be praised by all/From needing to be first, from finding all my worth in this world/From wanting to be seen, from constant worrying about myself/Deliver me..." This one kind of speaks for itself. I should start every day by listening to this song. God loves me, as He loves us all. We were created in His image. It's us who should be praising, not the other way around, but it's so easy to get caught in the trap of wanting earthly rewards and living for all things in this world. So, so easy. I'm not saying I think it makes sense to live like nothing matters on earth, because of course we can only get to heaven through a combination of faith and good works. Sometimes, though, I need to just step back and ask myself how much this will matter in a few hours, a few days, a few years. This outlook, even for ten minutes, generally improves my entire day, as it gives me permission to enjoy all we are blessed with and make decisions with more clarity.

--- 3 ---

American Dream - Switchfoot: "When success is equated with excess/The ambition for excess wrecks us/The top of the mine becomes the bottom line/When success is equated with excess...This ain't my American dream/I want to live and die for bigger things..." Along the lines of the last song, it's easy to think about how things will be perfect and we can really enjoy life once we have more money, once we own our own house, once we are living the American dream. Well, news flash to me: we live in a house we have all to ourselves. We have jobs and we can pay our bills. We have two beautiful children. We ARE living the American dream! Studies have shown that more money and possessions do not increase happiness.

--- 4 ---

Everything and Nothing - Matt Maher: "Cause everybody wants to see the proof/We're always tripping on our pride to get to You..." I'm starting to see a theme here. It's so easy, again, to be prideful and let that keep us from a good relationship with God. There's nothing we can hide from Him, so why do we (I) try? Why do I wait for everything to be just so before I feel like I can be faithful? In this Year of Faith, I'm going to work on letting go of that pride where it prevents me from forging better relationships both with God and with others.

--- 5 ---

Dare You to Move - Switchfoot: "The tension is here, tension is here/Between who you are and who you could be/Between how it is and how it should be...I dare you to move, like today never happened/Today never happened before..." There really is a theme. I swear it was on shuffle. I am not perfect. No one is perfect. We are perfectly and beautifully human, created by God in His image. This life is what it is, but it also is what we make of it. In each moment, there are choices I can make that will make the difference between what it is, and what it could or should be. Oof. That's a weighty one, but going back to #2, not all of them will matter as much in the long run. It can be an ongoing process, but one to be mindful of nevertheless.

--- 6 ---

Blessed Be Your Name - Tree 63: "Blessed be Your name/In the land that is plentiful/Where the streams of abundance flow/Blessed be Your name..." This one, pretty simple. Don't let God be absent from everyday life. This would be that land of abundance. He brought us here and He belongs here with us.

--- 7 ---

Kyrie - Matt Maher: "God of reconciliation/Heal our wounds in darkest times/Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy)..." A nice conclusion (again, I swear it was on shuffle!) because even after all of the times we use our free will to make mistakes and mess up, time and time again, God wants to forgive us and welcome us. He is loving and merciful. Oh, I needed to hear that. With great freedom comes great responsibility, but also great love and forgiveness. How awesome is this life we live!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my thought process (and my playlists). What are the last 7 songs that played on your iPod (or computer, or however you listen to music)? How did they speak to you? Please share!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Closet Project

I'm sure by now, everyone's heard the statement that we women wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. This surely accounts for the collective groan at 6 am in every time zone of "I have nothing to wear!" Let's assume that most women are wearing a different outfit every day for a week. This seems reasonable, given that we're all busy, many of us work, and all of us have responsibilities. If we are blessed with such abundance that we can only wear 20 percent of our clothes and still have 7 different outfits, that means we have at least 35 outfits. And we still have pajamas, underwear, workout clothes, dressy clothes . . . I don't know about you, but that seems a bit excessive to me.

So I'm putting my closet on a diet. I'm going to try and edit what I've got so I only own clothes that I wear regularly. If there is something I own that doesn't get worn regularly, there needs to be a good reason for keeping it (special occasions, maternity clothes, etc.). While I'm at it, I'm going to try and add a few pieces into the mix so that I can make nice, modest, appropriate outfits for my life as it is now.

My reasons for doing this? Well, there are a few. I believe that God calls us to be good stewards, and this includes owning reasonable amounts of possessions and sharing unneeded things with those who are less fortunate. I also want to set a good example for Emily and Erin. I don't want them to believe that they need dozens of outfits to be happy. Another reason is the closet space in our home. We live in an adorable little 1950s-era house, with 1950s-era closets. While we have some additional drawer space for clothes, it still leaves us with about 5 feet of hanging space. I need to measure, but I don't think there's more than that, and there might actually be less! My goal is for all of our clothes (Dan's included!) to fit in the space we've got, with a few exceptions. Lastly, if I blog about this it keeps me accountable. Not least because Dan will read this and ask me when half a bunch of my clothes are headed to St. Vincent de Paul!

So here are the rules I've made for myself.

1. Only keep what fits and flatters. (Exceptions: maternity clothes, nice dresses that may fit once the babies are weaned)

2. Only keep what is worn regularly. (Exceptions: special occasion clothes, maternity clothes, seasonal clothes)

3. Only keep what fits with my current role and lifestyle. On a regular basis, I wear simple cotton t-shirts, button-down shirts, jeans, sweaters, and simple skirts or dresses for church. I have to wear a collared shirt for work, so I do own a few (ok, about 25) tops that I might not wear if it weren't for that, but they will mostly be staying, even if they don't all earn a place in the closet.

4. Only keep what is reasonably modest. I am still figuring out what my exact standards are for modesty, but I know not everything in my current wardrobe meets them. Eventually, I know I need to come up with something specific, but for now, I'm going to try things on and see how I feel in them.

5. Only keep things that go with at least one other item. If I need to purchase something to make it wearable, that new item must go with at least one other item. This one is a bit complicated, but I know I need to have a rule like this to combat unnecessary expansion.

Depending on the way things go, I may come up with additional rules and/or exceptions, but I think this will be a good start.

Anyone interested in joining me? Comment below and let me know your plans!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why I'm tired of politics

As a journalism major, I hate to feel like I'm hiding from the news. But I'm having a hard time changing the channel from the Food Network or ESPN to any news program these days. I very rarely write about anything like this, but I have to get it out there: I'm sick and tired of politics. I'm very grateful for the democratic nation we live in, and for our right to vote for whomever we please. But as for politics, I think we could find less drama in the text-message inbox of your average teenage girl!

Politics bring out the worst in us, there's no denying. They would have you believe that your neighbors are selfish, greedy monsters who don't care about anyone but themselves or lazy, idealistic flower children who think money grows on trees. Any similarity to the word "polite" is purely coincidental.

The truth is, we aren't really that different from our neighbors, regardless of which box we check on the ballot. We want the same things: a better future for our family and our children, good jobs, affordable medical care when we need it, well-maintained public spaces, freedom to worship as we believe, to feel accepted, and to feel safe in our homes. We may not agree on the best way to achieve those things, but that doesn't warrant the kind of hate that is spewed once every four years.

I'm not trying to lessen the importance of voting. It is important to vote as you see fit. That is a liberty that, as someone who escaped an oppressive government recently told me, you don't appreciate until you don't have it. The truth is, we all have an opinion, and if we vote we can make it known. However, opinions are like noses. We've all got them. Last time I checked, it wasn't considered very polite to condemn someone based on the size and shape of their nose. Maybe we should apply this theory to politics.

If that doesn't have you convinced, think about the children. Our kids see and hear everything we do. At a fairly tender age, they are exposed to election coverage and political ads, unless we are very careful not to let this happen. The extreme political partisanship espoused in the various news media these days threatens to make us into a nation divided. Each side promises to end the negativity, but it's almost impossible to do this if divisive issues and viewpoints are made personal by connecting them to a particular candidate.

This is a pretty big problem, but there's a simple solution: you don't have to hate someone just because they don't agree with you. I'm aware that we could have avoided many centuries of war if everyone actually operated according to this principle, so I'm not terribly optimistic about seeing change anytime soon. However, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world," and as Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor." These are pretty simple things for us to do here at home. Perhaps if we can all model this concept, the politicians will catch on. And even if they don't, we'll be raising a generation of loving children who look for the good in others. I'll stay tuned to that channel, thank you very much.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

7 Quick Takes, Volume 16:

Thanks to Jen for hosting! These are going to be very quick, because I definitely should be in bed right now. But I'm not. So here we go!

--- 1 ---

I'm starting to realize just how much caffeine I consume on a daily basis. Seriously. It's scary. And I still feel like I need more - especially today. Well, not right now, but earlier. You know what I mean. Mostly because of this last paragraph, I'm sure of it. I'm going to cut back, starting soon. Or, at least I will try to balance it with water. I found my water bottle at work today, which should be helpful. On that note, I forgot to mention today that I'm extremely thankful for coffee. I love the taste, the aroma, the caffeination...need I say more? I'm so, so thankful for coffee. I'd love a cup right now. But hey. It's late. I don't really need to be up all night...

--- 2 ---

I got to make dinner this week for a family in our twins club who recently had babies, and I remembered to take a picture! I love cooking for people, and it's great to be able to help someone out by bringing food, all ready to go. I was inspired by Kathryn's post on how to take a meal to a friend, and so I brought along cold cereal too (I don't know that I ate much else after Erin and Emily were born, other than food people brought for us, so it seemed appropriate). I made them the awesome Tex-Mex casserole from Tuesday's post and frosted brownies (the bonus "recipe" at the bottom of the post). Try it out! Easy and delicious!

--- 3 ---

I'm overwhelmingly grateful, also, for the gift of my baby daughters. I just finished nursing them and they are so tiny and precious. I love snuggling with them.

--- 4 ---

According to my phone, it got down to 33 one morning this week. It's really starting to feel like fall! I need to make a fall bucket list before I look at the date and realize it's time to start our Christmas shopping. I also need to take some fall leaves pictures before the rains start...

--- 5 ---

Speaking of Christmas shopping, I really need to do a more organized job this year. I always say I want to make presents, but I never end up finding the time (or is it making the time?) Tell me, lovely readers, is Pinterest helpful here? Don't get me wrong, I love me some Pinterest, but I don't want to waste time looking for gift ideas and then end up spending more to make them than they're worth.

--- 6 ---

I really need to make a schedule for myself. Well, not really a schedule, per se. I need a checklist, I think. Something to remind me of all the things I need to get done every day and every week. I know I had planned to make one pre-babies, but I don't think it ever happened. Sigh. I need a checklist for my checklist....but really. I could get more done, I just don't remember it needs doing until I am too tired or too busy to do it. Like right now. For some reason, sitting at the kitchen table writing this made me remember that I have library books to return and a birthday present to shop for. Don't ask how these things are connected. They just must be, somehow. Am I the only one who is constantly forgetting things? There's got to be an app for that....seriously. I have an Android. Hit me, dear readers!

--- 7 ---

Last but certainly not least, we have a roller and a bow-wearer at our house as of this week! Emily is rolling all over the place, and tries to crawl when she is on her tummy. She has gone from wailing her way through tummy time - of any kind - to flipping over to seal position willingly and happily playing for several minutes at a time. She is also scooting by herself, which is really unnerving for me since I'm not done babyproofing. We'll be finishing this weekend.
Erin, not to be outdone by her sister, has enough hair to hold a clip-in bow! I can pull a little tuft straight up and it holds the clip pretty well. In fact, since I did it after she got out of her bath last night, she has a little Kewpie doll-style curl that sticks straight up, bow or no bow. It's adorable. I love it. Emily isn't quite there yet, but I'm sure she will be soon.
Which reminds me, it's time to start looking for Christmas outfits! Any input here is totally welcome (really, all of your input is welcomed with open arms all the time!) but this is something I really know nothing about. What do little babies wear for Christmas Mass? Emily and Erin will be 6 months old the week before Christmas (on my birthday, actually!) so they are still very little.

Yes. I had to.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thoroughly Thankful Thursday, Week 2: Link Up!

Hey everybody! It's Thursday again, and you know what that means ... time to share what we're thankful for!

This week, I've been specifically pondering the idea of accepting imperfection, and being thankful to be able to do this. You're probably familiar, especially if you're a sports fan, with the idea of "paralysis by analysis". In a nutshell, this means overthinking your situation. You get so caught up in the idea of what you need to do that you can't "just do it" (and that makes Nike sad...)

This happens an awful lot outside of sports, however. I find myself daily putting off tasks or projects because the moment isn't right or it won't be perfectly done because I don't have enough time. I used to put off making dinner a couple of times a week just because of this idea, and we'd end up going out to eat. I frequently postpone putting the laundry away or really cleaning up the house, because I know I won't have enough time to do it as well as I'd like.

Well, news flash. Dan doesn't care if dinner's perfect. He'd prefer it had fewer vegetables and more main dish (nice try, honey), but he just wants to eat. A house that's sort of clean is better than one that hasn't been cleaned at all. Folded laundry in the basket is just fine, and far preferable to a heap of clean, wrinkly clothes in the dryer. And from my post yesterday, sort of homemade brownies are better than no brownies!

I need to be more thankful for the ability to accept imperfection. It really is a blessing, when it happens. There's a lot more imperfection than perfection in parenting, so I guess I can say I'm really getting a crash course right now! Most of the time, I still catch myself dragging my feet when the task is even slightly optional and I feel like it won't be perfect, but then I try to picture what will happen should I leave it undone. I have this wonderful mental picture of a "laundry monster", made of clothes and towels, storming through our little house...yeah, I know we don't have that many clothes and towels, but this is wonderful mental motivation. Don't ruin it for me! I got all the laundry done (well, four loads washed and dried, some folded) based on this image. Haha.

This week, I'm also thoroughly thankful for:

1. Dan's new working from home arrangement. I admit, I was nervous. We're still a bit crowded, but it's working out really well so far. I love that we don't have to all be out of the house just after 7 every morning. I really, really love that he no longer has to be wearing a dress shirt, slacks, and a tie. And I really, really, really love getting to see him during the day. We also aren't leaving the house to pick him up right as I should be feeding the girls and starting dinner (see #2).

2. The freedom and creativity to try new recipes for dinner. This is saving us a ton of money, because we aren't tempted to get takeout or go out to eat, and we aren't bored either. I've had more time to make dinner now that I don't work full time, simply because I can take advantage of small chunks during the day when I'm home anyway.

3. Making it all the way through Mass IN the sanctuary on Sunday! We sat behind a friend who has an adorable 7 month old boy, and although our three kids weren't exactly quiet, they were all fascinated by each other. So adorable!! This particular parish (the one we'd attended up until the girls were born) shows all of the songs, etc., on a projector screen, so it is much more friendly to parents holding little kids, and there is more space within the sanctuary to sit with carseats, blankets, diaper bags, and still be able to slip out quickly if the need arises. Also, you are outside as soon as you leave, which is always a good thing for my girls when they are upset.

4. My wonderful, loving husband. I am really making an effort to look for the positive in his intent, as Moxie Wife mentioned in her anniversary post yesterday. It can be so easy to look at what I want in the moment and assume he is just out to selfishly squash my happiness. But it's my responsibility to be happy (hey, that was the whole idea behind TTT in the first place!) and coincidentally, he is happier when I'm happy too. So anytime I start to growl inwardly and find myself upset, I think about how lucky I am to be his wife, and how thankful I am for God's gift of him!

5. Getting to work part-time. I'm so thankful I don't have to work full time anymore. Sleep deprivation aside (which hasn't been too bad this week, see below) I miss my babies terribly while I'm at work and they're at home with Grandma or Daddy or at Grandma's house. I know they are happy, and the socialization is great, but I miss them. I really feel for the mamas that work full time and wish they were home with their babies.

6. Luckily, I do enjoy my job, and for this I am also thankful. While I do miss my baby girls, at least I am having fun, and I know it's a positive thing for all four of us that I am still working some.

7. Grandmas that love spending time with their granddaughters. I am so grateful for my mom and Dan's mom loving to watch Emily and Erin while I am at work. I know they are in good, safe hands and they are getting to know their grandmothers, which is a priceless gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

8. More sleep. We are starting to find a rhythm during the day and at night. I discovered, quite accidentally, that the girls really prefer to go to bed between 7 and 8, rather than later. They went to bed one night this week at 6:30! I assumed I'd be up around 3, but I was wrong. They do still wake up to eat (or I assume they are hungry, I'm not quite ready to assume otherwise, haha) between 2 and 5, and I feed them in the glider in their room and we all go back to bed. Then we get up between 5:30 and 7. I haven't truly slept all night since probably February of this year, so this once a night thing works for me. They are sleeping while they eat (dream feed, I guess this has a name!) so I'm not worried about their sleep getting interrupted for now. We'll inquire at their 4 month checkup.

9. Rolling over! My sweet, precious Emily is rolling all over the place now, and darling, precious Erin is not far behind her. This means I have to watch them extra closely, but it is so exciting to see her trying to crawl now when she's on her tummy! No more "tummy time" - she does it herself now, and did it for almost an hour yesterday!

10. Baby hair! Erin has enough hair for a little clip-in bow now. She looks so adorable, I can't get over it! Emily is not quite there yet, but that's what headbands are for :)

But enough about me. What are you thankful for this Thursday? Share below in the comments or link up your post here! I can't wait to read your lists!

Add your link:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Easy (and delicious!) Tex-Mex casserole

Part of my tagline is food, but I have definitely slacked when it comes to actually posting about food. So I decided to share a recipe with all you lovely readers today! This is my favorite kind of recipe - it's super easy, super delicious, reasonably healthy, and entirely adaptable. Oh, and did I mention I (mostly) created it myself? (I did have a bit of inspiration from a back-of-package recipe, but for comparison's sake, I made the original the other night, and Dan and I both agreed that what I make now is something entirely different, and much better!)
Tex-Mex Casserole (right) with Frosted Brownies (left). An easy and uplifting meal!
I love this casserole because it takes almost no time to get it ready for the oven, and you can either make it entirely from scratch or you can use ready-to-go versions of the ingredients, depending on the amount of time you have to prep. It has become my go-to meal. We eat it once a week, and I take it to people when I'm making them dinner. The leftovers are fantastic, if you're lucky enough to have any. I have to make about six servings to have one left for lunch the next day, and there are only two of us! I promise, once you try this, you'll be making it once a week too!

Convinced you want to make this for dinner tonight? Well, here's what you need to do.

Tex-Mex Casserole (serves four, or two very hungry adults)

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or you can cook your own dried beans, you'll need about 2 1/2-3 cups)

4 cups cooked brown rice (you can use microwavable frozen rice, 1 package)

at least 3 tablespoons taco seasoning (add this much and then taste, I use about 5-6)

1 regular-size jar red salsa, whichever brand and spiciness you prefer

1 1/2-2 cups grated cheese. Plain cheddar is fine, or you can buy Mexican-style grated cheese in an 8 oz package and use this (that's what I usually do)

sour cream for topping

tortilla chips (our favorite are Juanita's)

Optional, but recommended: 
onion flakes
garlic powder

Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees. In 9x9 casserole dish, combine rice and taco seasoning. Taste and add additional taco seasoning as desired. Add beans; stir to combine evenly. Rinsing the beans is important because canned beans are very salty, and you want them to taste spicy, not just salty. If you'd like to jazz up the beans a bit further, you can add 1-2 tbsp. onion flakes and 1 tsp. garlic powder before mixing with the rice. You can microwave the beans and spices for 30-60 seconds to help the flavor take hold.

Pour salsa over rice and bean mixture, using a spatula to spread evenly. Top with cheese. Here is your chance to be artistic! You can put the cheese in the middle only, leaving some of the salsa exposed, or you can cover the casserole completely, whichever you'd like. You can cover the casserole dish and refrigerate at this point for several hours until you are ready to bake it, or you can put it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a heap of tortilla chips. Enjoy!

Leftovers, if you happen to have any, can be covered and refrigerated and reheated in the microwave the next day.

Part of the beauty of this recipe is that you can adapt the ingredients to fit what you have on hand and what you like. I made it yesterday with kidney beans and black beans mixed because I had one can of each, and it was just as good. I've used different blends of cheese, different kinds of salsa, made my own taco seasoning, added vegetables (peppers, onions, corn, tomatoes) and experimented with the level of spiciness. The above version would be suitable for a family with young kids; if you'd like it spicier, you can always increase the amount of seasoning. If your family is very sensitive to spicy foods, you can start with less, taste, and add more as desired.

I have yet to serve this to someone who didn't love it, so what are you waiting for? Make this for dinner tonight!

Bonus "recipe":

Frosted Brownies
I'm not going to pretend I regularly make brownies from scratch - I don't. The truth is, you can enhance brownie mix to make some really yummy, and quick, brownies! My theory is that somewhat homemade baked goods are far superior to no baked goods, Don't you agree?

To one package of brownie mix batter (to be baked in 8x8 pan, double additions for larger packages) add 3/4 cup (or more, if you like) chocolate chips. Fold in chocolate chips and bake as directed. Cool. Frost thickly with your favorite chocolate frosting. Top with more chocolate chips. This makes a fantastic dessert to follow the Tex-Mex casserole!

Enjoy, everybody! Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pride hurts.

You hear the phrase "hurt his/her pride" a lot. But how often do you hear that pride itself hurts? Well, pride bit me in the rear yesterday (and kicked me around a bit for good measure) and boy, am I feeling it today.

It started with a diverter valve. For those who don't know, a diverter valve is the small button on the end of your tub spout that tells the water to go through the showerhead instead of through the spout when it's pulled up tight. I'd noticed that ours wasn't working very well - water still came out the spout when you pulled the button, no matter how hard you pulled. I'm a pretty handy person when it comes to little projects around the house, so I decided to fix it. Replacing the tub spout is the answer, so I watched a video on YouTube yesterday which showed the process. It looked easy. Easy easy. Hardly any tools or skill required. Just remove the old one and bring it in to buy a new one, and install.

Removal was, as promised, a cinch. I loosened the little screw on the bottom and pulled the old spout off. I dutifully put it in a plastic ziptop bag and gathered my troops for a trip to the hardware store. Confident that this would be easy and quick, we headed to the grocery store on the way home and did the week's shopping.

Mistake #1. Never go grocery shopping on Sunday. I thought since today was the 1st, it would make more sense to go yesterday. I'm sure today will be busy, but yesterday you could barely walk through WinCo, let alone get to the shelves to buy anything. As a result, I used up my window between feedings and the girls were howling by the time we got to the checkout. A sweet lady in line behind me helped unload my cart while I tried in vain to console Emily and Erin. It didn't help that somehow we'd left one pacifier in the car and they were both hungry. I bagged our groceries as fast as I could (it sure is handy having all of that on-the-job training for bagging!) and we hurried home. After both girls had eaten, I got back in the tub to install the new spout.

I should have known something wasn't right when the screw was crooked right out of the box. Mistake #2. Naïvely, I assumed that it would straighten out once I got the spout on. Oh, how wrong I was. I tried for an hour to get the spout on, to no avail. Finally, I called the store and was told to bring it back, it was defective. I rushed back just before closing to get a new spout and some more direction as to how it went together. By this time, it was past dinnertime, but we couldn't use the shower or the tub until I figured out how to get the spout back on.

As soon as I took the new one out of the package, I could tell it would work better. The screw was straight and all of the parts were aligned correctly. By this time, I knew more about the inner workings of a tub spout than I had ever cared to, other than not really knowing the proper names of the parts other than washers and o-rings. I grimly set to it. Pride had gotten the better of me, not to mention the desire to have even a partially functioning shower in the morning. I used every ounce of skill (not much) and strength (a considerable amount for how small I am) to get the spout on and functioning. That right there I'm proud of.

What I'm not proud of is how frustrated and grouchy I got in the meantime. I definitely said some things I regretted later to my poor husband who'd spent all afternoon doing yard work and just wanted to take a shower and eat dinner with his wife. Mistake #3. This was probably the biggest one. Yes, being on my hands and knees bracing myself against the side of the tub trying desperately to get the spout to slide on just right was inherently frustrating, as was the fact that we were all tired and hungry, but still, no excuses. And after two hours of sliding, twisting, and pushing, my entire body aches today.

Pride hurts. I'm reminded of that every time I move, even typing this post (did I mention I couldn't find my gloves and thus have almost no skin left on my fingertips?). I think it was a timely reminder to swallow my pride and admit I don't know as much as I think I do. That doesn't just apply to kneeling in a puddle of water, trying to get all the spout parts to line up (um, duh, if you put the screw in before sliding the spout on, all the parts HAVE to line up!) but for all of the other times I'm so sure I know what I'm doing (hoping for the girls to nap while we're running errands, anyone?) Pride hurts, and I'm here to tell the tale. And I never thought I'd say this, but I hope the hurt hangs around for a while, because sometimes I'm a slow learner!