Thursday, February 28, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Volume 34: Goodbye, Pope Benedict...

--- 1 ---
Watching Pope Benedict's final blessing today was an incredibly moving experience. I always feel a little strange watching something like that on TV - it usually feels like you have to be there - but this was different. It was incredibly moving to hear him speak, to think how it must feel to know that he was doing this for the last time. We all must try to discern God's will at various times in our lives, but to do that at the level and visibility of the papacy is an overwhelming responsibility. My heart is heavy today as I think about how this man led us, how he kept the faith and tradition while reaching out to the people - even using Twitter to keep in touch. I pray that he may know peace in his retirement, as well as for the conclave as they choose a new Pope.
--- 2 ---
I'm going in for some more x-rays tomorrow morning. I've been having back pain and numbness in my neck and arm for a while now, and I had back x-rays a few weeks ago that didn't show anything wrong. I went to start physical therapy earlier this week and the degree of numbness in my arm worried the therapist, so she asked me to go back for more tests before I do anything. I'm hoping it's all muscular, but I'm starting to wonder at this point! I'm having trouble thinking about anything else, though, so I figured I'd share with all of you.
--- 3 ---
Emily has spent a lot of time standing up on her hands and feet lately, sort of a cross between downward dog and the plank. I don't know if she's just having fun with a new skill or if she's thinking life would be more interesting on twos instead of fours? Our pediatrician had told us not to get a walker or exersaucer because it would hinder their development, but I am starting to wonder. I don't see how babies develop leg strength without ever practicing standing! But hey, they're the doctors, not me.
--- 4 ---
Erin went down for what I figured was a nap earlier this week and ended up sleeping for 14 hours! I was amazed. Freaked out, but amazed. I went to bed early, though I checked on her a couple of times to make sure she was ok. I fully expected that she'd wake up around 4 am (she fell asleep at 4:30 pm, I put her down about 10 minutes later) but she slept until 6:20 am! Don't get the idea that it's a regular occurrence, but I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, my sore back keeps me from sleeping super well, but I can still appreciate the luxury of uninterrupted sleep. I know it's great for the babies as well.
--- 5 ---
Erin's favorite trick right now is pulling books off the bookshelf. Other than emptying the shelf, I'm not sure what to do about that. She especially loves our big Good Eats books (the Food Network show in book form) and they are so huge, I'm afraid she'll get smushed! But she is undeterred by their size and goes back over and over again. The recliner does a nice job of blocking the shelf for the time being - and maybe in a few months the bottom shelf won't be so appealing?
--- 6 ---
Speaking of bookshelves, have any of you out there in blog land ever styled one? I've read various articles about how to organize the books by color and size and add decorative objects - and I'm kind of at a loss. Ours is floor to ceiling, matches the wall (it looks like it's built in) and is something of a jumble of books of all shapes and sizes. I'll take any suggestions, links, advice, experience, whatever you've got!
--- 7 ---
I'll leave you today with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's final tweet, a truly beautiful sentiment: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives".

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Revisiting Real Food

I realized the other day that I've been dragging. I've been so tired the last week, and while we've had a few nights that were short on sleep, I don't think that explains it. When I started thinking about how I'd been eating, that seemed a little more likely. I'd originally planned to give up processed foods 90 percent of the time in January, but when I realized how hard I was being on myself, I decided that was one of the unrealistic expectations that had to go. But now I'm thinking of giving it another try.

Processed food is easy. After all, most of the cooking is done for you. All you have to do is add liquid or heat or some combination of the two. There's a downside, though - there's not very much control over the ingredients, and they are often high in sugar and salt. Sugar's not bad in small amounts, and salt is an essential nutrient. But we get lots of naturally occurring sugar in fruits and other foods, so we don't really need to add it to everything we eat. Same with salt - it definitely makes food taste better and we need to eat some of it, but we don't need to add it to everything we eat. The recent obesity epidemic coincides with a steep increase in the consumption of processed foods with lots of sugar, salt, and corn, and there's no denying that people are gaining away despite an abundance of so-called health foods.

The most complicated aspect of this is scheduling. I love the idea of having the time to cook meals for the family, everyone making time for three meals a day, and always having the ingredients on hand to make a good meal. The reality has always been that I can make the meal, as long as I can rely on a handful of packaged ingredients. For example, I made fajitas last night, but I had to use taco seasoning since I don't have all the spices in my spice rack to make my own. I have more luck when I use older recipes, because they tend to call for fewer packaged ingredients, but there are some new recipes that have great real food ingredients.

I think I may have found a compromise. On the blog "100 Days of Real Food", the author, Lisa, has a 10 day challenge. Ten days sounds doable. I've made an effort to eat better at certain times in my life, so I know I will feel better when I'm trying to eat healthier food. Swearing off processed food 100 percent might not be possible, so I'll give myself a little wiggle room, but I'll try to make it as small as possible. When exactly this will happen is a little bit harder. I don't want to start something like this without a good plan, so it might be a few weeks - it might even be after Easter. I am going to try and start eating better right away, but we will probably eat through the food we do have for the most part before we make any drastic changes. If any of you have ever taken the real food challenge, though, I'd love to hear how it went! What did you eat? What did you miss most (so I can eat lots of it now - only sort of kidding) and what did you not end up missing? Do you have a favorite real food cookbook?

Monday, February 25, 2013

What I wore Sunday: Vol. 8, Wearing the Baby

It was a little bright outside, but such a gorgeous day! Hard to believe we had over an inch of rain on Saturday...

Yep, that's right, I wore a baby! Since Emily and Erin are no longer nursing and have taken to exploring the house, I've had to make an effort to give them plenty of snuggle time. Not that I don't enjoy holding my baby girls, but they are just too busy! They still love riding around in the Ergo, though, so I wear them while I'm doing chores, running errands...or going to Mass. I'm not sure why we never did this before - or maybe we did and I've forgotten about it? I remember using the sling to hold Emily when she was first going to Mass, when the girls were less than two months old. Time flies! That was six months ago already. 

Anyway, it worked like a charm. We'd gone to Starbucks early in the morning to meet my aunt for coffee, since she was in town and we rarely get to see her. It was a real treat to hang out and chat for a while! I wore Erin then, and she napped the whole time. I could tell Emily wanted to sleep too, but she just never calmed down quite enough. I strapped her in and she was asleep shortly after the Gospel. Problem solved. She napped, her sister played with Daddy, and I even got a second afternoon nap out of both girls (and a FULL NIGHT'S SLEEP last night!)

What I wore:
Baby carrier: Ergo by Ergobaby (best baby carrier EVER!)
Fleece top: Old Navy (made a super snuggly, droolproof pillow out of Mommy)
Jeans: Citizens of Humanity (thrifted)
Shoes (not visible in this shot, but you can see them here): Dansko
Emily is wearing an adorable fleece sleeper from Carter's with flowers, a monkey on the front, and polkadot ruffles on the bottom!

For more Mass-inspired outfits, visit Fine Linen and Purple!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Different strokes

--- 1 ---
Whew! It's been quite a week. I've had lots of fun playing with Emily and Erin. In case you missed it, they're crawling like crazy and exploring the world. Every time I turn around, they're checking out something new and exciting (the thrilling Kleenex box, the fascinating refrigerator door, the tasty laptop keyboard) and playing around with it. I love it. Well, I do draw the line at gnawing on the laptop. I draw the line over and over again. Hence the lack of blog posts this week - I just don't feel right having something out that they have to stay away from, since they don't understand why!
--- 2 ---
Our big girls are 8 months old!

Erin loved the sticker. She pulled it off and played with it for at least an hour after I got done snapping pictures!

--- 3 ---
In an effort to distract Erin and Emily from some of our more fascinating possessions, we bought them their own versions.
Baby phone and baby remote - big girl toys!

--- 4 ---
I'm not making a ton of progress on the "40 bags" Lenten challenge, but I do have some things lined up to go on their way. One box that we got out of our garage is going to count for at least 6 bags (I'm out of order if you're checking up on my list, but it's just where I happened to start!) But... I got rid of it before Ash Wednesday. So I don't know if that counts or not. But I think I'll make it count, since it was a big step forward in admitting we have some things to share with the less fortunate. 
--- 5 ---
I just started reading a book called "Confessions of an Imperfect Mom" (Amazon link here) that I'm really enjoying. The book's subtitle is "God's Path to Less Guilt and More Grace" and the author has focused so far on how she spent a lot of time beating herself up for doing a lot of things "wrong" and that acknowledging the things she was doing right was the most important change she ever made as a mother.
--- 6 ---
I've been feeling much better in general about the parenting choices we've made, but recently I've been feeling overwhelmed again, coupled with a pull to do more. I can honestly say that the overwhelmed feeling comes and goes, and I can sometimes manage it by making sure I'm not getting too tired or hungry during the day. But other days, all I can see is how much more I should be doing. Should is a word I need to remove from my vocabulary, I've decided...

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 32: 7 Ways You Know Your Twins Are Crawling

Thanks to Jen for hosting! If you hadn't guessed from the title, Emily and Erin are crawling all over the house. Every day, they chart a little more territory. Intrepid explorers, they are. One day this week, it was our bedroom to visit Daddy's office. Another day, it was the kitchen - all the way back to the trash can (which I'd moved as far away from their play area as I could!). I love this phase (hey, I love it all), but some days I'm left gasping for breath at bedtime - and they don't even crawl super fast yet! With this in mind, I thought I'd share some ways "you know when your twins are crawling...", a lá David Letterman:

--- 1 ---
You swear you'll never let them wear anything white (or light pink, or any pastel) ever again.
--- 2 ---
You know (and hide if possible) every enticing object within a 10 ft radius of your children's play area.
--- 3 ---
No need for a floor-mopping schedule - 5 minutes of playtime lets you know if the floor needs cleaning or not.
--- 4 ---
Sudden silence sends you into an instant panic. (I hear this one hangs around for a while...)
--- 5 ---
You have to keep all your shoes in the closet because they are apparently the most enticing objects known to babykind.
--- 6 ---
Every bottom shelf in your house has been emptied of anything grabbable.
--- 7 ---
You shake your head at bedtime and say, "Well, honey, at least they aren't walking yet..."

Have a great weekend, everyone!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thoroughly Thankful Thursday: 40 Bags Challenge

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you're all celebrating St. Valentine in style with the ones you love. We're delaying our celebration (we work for almost 14 hours straight between the two of us), but I'm looking forward to Emily and Erin's first Valentine's Day all the same!

In case you missed it, I've decided to spend Lent filling bags. With this in mind, today I'm thankful for the abundance we've been blessed with. Sometimes, when we're thinking about a new car or a new house, or even something smaller like a new pair of jeans, it's hard to remember all of the things we already do have.
Here's the list of places I'll be decluttering (our house is small, so several places show up more than once because I know there's more than one bag's worth in there). If you'd like to join in, let me know! I didn't come up with this idea on my own, so here's the link to the original post with the idea (her blog is super cute!)

As always, this is a linkup, so tell us what you're thankful for! Link your post below or share in the comments!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

40 Bags in 40 Days: A Lenten Challenge

I got really excited when a friend shared this idea with me, because it seemed like the perfect Lenten challenge. Now that Emmy and Erin are crawling, I have a love/hate relationship with things. In reality, I always have - I like to get new things, I just don't like clutter. I also feel a tad guilty realizing that clutter means we have so much stuff, there's no place to put it all. Yep, that's why clutter is overwhelming, folks - it's because there really isn't "a place for everything and everything in its place" (at least that's how it is here!)

In case you didn't click through to the link above (the rest of this will make more sense if you do!) the challenge is to pick 40 spaces in your home and come up with 40 bags of stuff you don't need. The author gives a few places two days' credit in her list, figuring there's more than one bag of unneeded stuff in there. I'll probably have to give some places three or four bags, but I'm sure we can come up with 40 bags one way or another! I love the idea of going through a space at a time and committing to pass a bag of things on to someone who can use them.

As far as how this relates to Lent (other than it being a 40 day challenge): I think since we have been abundantly blessed, this allows us to bless others as well by giving them things they need. It's not always easy to give things away, especially if they have strong memories attached to them, but there's a finite amount of space at the end of the day. Plus, the focus can be less on things and more on Jesus - which is the whole idea of Lent in the first place. Who's with me?

Stay tuned tomorrow for my list!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Go-to Easy Meals

I'm sure all of you can relate when I say life gets a little crazy around here. You know how it is - there's only one night a week where you can count on just eating dinner and having the rest of the evening free, and sometimes you don't even have that! I like to avoid serving cereal for dinner if at all possible, so there are some quick and easy meals I rely on to get us through those super busy days. The first two are oven meals, which are perfect if you have small children to feed before dinner - you prep dinner and while it bakes, you can feed the little ones. The third takes less time to get on the table (25 minutes the first time, about 15-20 minutes after you've made it once before), but requires all of the time to be spent in the kitchen.

The key to all of these is a little long term planning: make sure you always have black beans, brown rice, tortillas, cheese, salsa, tortilla chips, tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti, bagged salad, canned breadsticks, canned chicken, canned green chiles, and cream of chicken soup on hand, and you will have these three meals at your fingertips! You might go weeks without needing them (the salad won't last that long) but when you do need them, they'll be there. Try them and let me know what you think!

If you have a variety of food on hand, there are lots of quick and easy meals you can make - besides mac and cheese!

1. Tex-Mex Casserole. I posted this recipe (see link for brownie recipe) once before as a great meal to make for a family with a new baby (or babies!) or to freeze for a really busy day:

Tex-Mex Casserole (right) with Frosted Brownies (left). An easy and uplifting meal!

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.

2. White Chicken Enchiladas
We received these as a dinner when Emily and Erin were a few weeks old, and they were amazing. I make them about once a week now. We usually have leftovers, but they reheat really well for lunch the next day. Check out their other recipes while you're there - there is a whole series of great dinners!

3. Spaghetti with Salad and Garlic Breadsticks
This really isn't a "recipe", but it's still one of my fave easy meals. The first thing I do is bake some garlic breadsticks (plain canned breadsticks with some melted butter, garlic powder, and parsley flakes sprinkled on top). I take a medium can of tomato sauce, a small can of tomato paste, 3-4 servings of whole wheat spaghetti (depending on how hungry we are) and add my own spices to the sauce. Play around with combinations of the following:
garlic powder dried basil dried oregano dried thyme dried parsley onion flakes ground black pepper
Mix the tomato sauce and tomato paste in a small saucepan over low heat. Start with a teaspoon of each and increase after tasting if desired. Make sure to cover the saucepan when you're done seasoning, or you and your kitchen will be covered in small red splatters! While your sauce is heating, cook your spaghetti. It only needs to cook about 7 minutes to be done, unless you like mushy spaghetti! Add a bag of salad and some dressing and you have dinner ready in literally less than 20 minutes. It takes a little longer the first time, but once you've made your sauce once, you'll know how much of everything to put in, and it won't take as long. And hey - if you're really in a rush, just use a jar of spaghetti sauce!

In addition to these, I always try to have a frozen pizza on hand, and we've had cereal for dinner a few times too. Sometimes you just need an instant meal! But with a little bit of pantry stocking, you can get dinner on the table after even the craziest of days.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thoroughly Thankful Thursday: Waking up early

Happy Thursday! Today I'm thankful for waking up early. Normally Emily and Erin wake up between 7 and 7:30, but today Erin started fussing around 6:00. I woke up and it was still dark, so I figured it was the middle of the night. I was surprised to see that my phone said 6:09 as I got out of bed. After getting both girls up, fed, and changed, I decided to just get showered and dressed myself. We even had pancakes for breakfast! I cleaned out our "pantry" earlier this week, so it was easy to find everything I needed to make them. I love it when chores pay off like that!

It's a lot easier to cook now that I organized our "pantry"!

Dan and I didn't get to bed very early last night, so waking up early wouldn't have been my first choice, but it was actually nice to be up before he started work. Making breakfast was fun too! I haven't made pancakes for quite a while, and I always forget how easy they are. Emily and Erin aren't quite old enough to try them, but they will be soon! I bet they'll love having homemade pancakes for breakfast. I'm not sure I can pull this getting up early off every day (well, other than Saturdays, when I get up at 4 for work) but I'm certainly thankful that it happened today!

Monday, February 4, 2013

While we're waiting for life to begin...

I saw something written the other day about how "life" is what happens while we're waiting for life to begin. I've seen variations on this before, about how we define "life" as "once we have a house of our own", or "when we pay off all our debt", or "once we're married/have kids/get 'real' jobs/etc". Really, though, life is what's happening right now, while we're sitting at the computer, folding endless loads of laundry, playing with our kids, running errands, cooking dinner.

Maybe it doesn't feel exciting. Maybe you're not very good at it (right here!) or you don't enjoy it as much as you feel like you should. Maybe it always seems like there's something you can change or should change. Maybe you're in the midst of a really difficult situation. Either way, day after day, life goes on.

I struggle with discontentment, big-time. I like to think that's because I'm an optimistic person - I try to see the positive side of everything. That translates to seeing the possibility for perfection in everything, however. I find myself constantly repeating something to the effect of "if we just had this/did this/changed this, it would be perfect!" Becoming a mom tempered my discontentment a good bit, because I am frequently too tired to do anything about something that's not to my liking. I settle for "good enough" a lot more than I used to. That's a step in the right direction, I figure. See? "Good enough", right there!

That sense of "good enough" could stand to creep into my definition of life. I find myself constantly looking ahead to the next step, thinking about how we'll barbecue in the backyard this summer, or how we'll celebrate Emily and Erin's first birthday. I find myself ignoring the next day or two in favor of making plans for a few weeks or months from now. Hmmm..."life is what happens while you're busy planning it", anyone?

Over the last few weeks, I've made a point of stopping and really thinking about each day, and trying to  consider it from beginning to end. I don't just want life to happen to us, I want us to do the happening. We may be living in a season where life "lives" us a bit more than would be ideal, but it doesn't mean I can't take off my perfection goggles for a moment and start seeing the positive in our life right now.

Friday, February 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 31: On the move and the Super Bowl!

Hey everyone! Happy Friday! I'm really excited for this weekend. Super Bowl, anyone?! 

--- 1 ---
I can't believe it's the end of football season already. Sigh. Am I the only girl saddened by this news? I love watching football, though I know we didn't watch as much this season as we normally do. Well, I didn't. I had two very cute little girls to pay attention to instead! But our Ducks had a great season, and the Seahawks made a good run to the playoffs, and now we get to choose to cheer for the 49ers or the Ravens in the Super Bowl. It's a hard decision - there are former Ducks on both teams! And the 49ers coach is a former Pac-10 coach (Pac-12, but it was only 10 when he was there).
--- 2 ---
I'm also kind of fascinated by the fact that the two coaches are brothers. A couple of rounds ago in the playoffs, I asked Dan if there was a chance that they'd face each other in a game. He said there was, but I didn't realize until later on that it would be at the very end! I can't really imagine how that would feel. I suppose it would just be like any other Super Bowl (I can't say any other game, because we're talking about the Super Bowl) but with the ultimate family bragging rights on the line. It would be a little more strange to be their parents - you'd be happy no matter who won, but how would you choose who to cheer for? Would Mom cheer for one team and Dad for the other?
--- 3 ---
I was just watching a spot on TV where they talked about how the prices for tickets to the Super Bowl have gone up since it was first played. The tickets started off at $15, and were up to $150 by the early 1990s, to $700 by 2006, and to $1200 in 2012. Twelve hundred dollars. Per person. That's just to get into the game! No wonder the commercial spots are worth so much - that pretty much guarantees most people will be watching on TV! Which reminds me - I do like the commercials (since I did study advertising history in college) but I always forget to pay attention. Last year was the first year I remember paying close attention!
--- 4 ---
We're on the move around here, as I indicated in the title. No, we're not moving again any time soon, but Emily and Erin are suddenly very mobile. They are army-crawling all over the place, faster and faster every day. For some reason, there are certain things they find fascinating - like the trash can, our dustpan, and the cord for my laptop - and I spend a lot of time trying to get them away from these things. Erin also likes to pull books off the shelf and chew the corners, so I try to keep this to kid books.  Emily finds the bookshelf really interesting too, but she doesn't seem to want to eat the books. I'm okay with that.
--- 5 ---
Last fall, I was really committed to breaking out of my older-teen style rut and getting a new, more grown-up style for clothes. Now that some of my smaller clothes are starting to fit again, I'm feeling my commitment waver. For one thing, it's a lot easier to just put on a tank, tee, and jeans every day. For another thing, I get nervous about trying to be creative with my clothes. Being petite, I also have an easier time finding clothes in teen shops - though I do have to buy bigger tops now to flatter my new mama body. I can't decide if this is something I need to work on or not - either way, I don't quite have enough space in my closet and dresser for all of my clothes, so I need to figure something out!
--- 6 ---
As part of my new commitment to just being myself, doing what really works for us, and making sure I devote the majority of my time and energy to being a good mama and wife, I have been working on coupons. One of the things about couponing is having the space to stock up on what's on sale. If paper towels are on sale by the case, that's great if you have a place to put the extra two cases. It doesn't really pay off if you are surrounded by extra food and household supplies and they're taking over your house. Now that we have a garage, we have some plastic shelves we're filling with "stock-up" stuff, and so I'm going to try my hand at couponing! I don't want to take it too far, because I know it can be really rough on the cashiers and also border on the unethical, but I think it's possible to save money while still following the rules. Any tips? I know Beth Anne has an awesome money-saving blog that I plan to check out today - any other great sites for a beginning couponing mama?
--- 7 ---
I'll leave you with a snapshot of life at our house - Emily is on the left, crawling after the elephant's crackly ear, and Erin is playing peekaboo with a tiny baby blanket (which, it should be noted, covered her entirely just a few short months ago!)
Emily and Erin - 7 1/2 months old already! I can't get over how cute little baby jeans look on them!
I hope you all have a great Super Bowl weekend! Go Ravens!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!