Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ten Recipes That Rock From Around the Blogosphere

  1. Amy's Yogurt Coffee Cake Muffins- Amy uses the word "tender" to describe these and it couldn't be more apt. These are so easy to make and use ingredients most of us always have on hand.
  2. Lynn's Chicken and Bacon Lo Mein- Um... did someone say BACON? This is a man-pleaser, to be sure. (Quick time saving tip... you can easily use a bag of "California mixed veggies" for the cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots in this.)
  3. Jessica's Jalapeno Burn Pizza- This pizza is a grown-up flavor-fest for the mouth. My kids will eat anything and this is no exception... but I tend to reserve it for my husband and me.
  4. Crystal's Lazy Granola- I am not joking here: I eat this granola six mornings a week. I like it that much. Sometimes I make a peanut butter version. Sometimes I make my Chocolate Almond version. But it's all based off this recipe right here.
  5. Tammy's Italian Cheese Bread- I told you all last week. I love this stuff. I make at least ten different versions.
  6. Kate's Crescent Rolls- These are so good! Most often, I use them for making up Pigs in Blankets, but I make them just plain at holidays too.
  7. Laura's French Toast- It's not that I really needed a recipe for French Toast, but this uses more milk and less eggs than my traditional method and that saves me money. That makes me happy! I'd never used flour before, but it really works out well... you should give it a try!
  8. Joy's Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal- It's the chocolate chips she added that push this one right over the edge into "dessert for breakfast" territory. So great with scrambled eggs after 8:30 am Mass!
  9. Amy's Pizza Omelets- Can you tell I want to have breakfast with Amy? She and I share a weakness for eggs and cheese together... these yummy omelets have such great flavor and can easily stand in for a quick supper.
  10. Lynn's Mexican Pizzas- Winner, winner, winner. The whole family went crazy for these. My husband despises beans, so I just melted some cheese between his tostadas. Worked like a charm.

Print out any and all of them- they are all tried and true and have been repeated MULTIPLE times here in the Parenting Miracles household! They are all either quick and easy to toss together or flexible enough to do lots of the work ahead of time. Bon appetit!

(By the way... I could have listed many more recipes from Amy and Lynn. They're both talented in the kitchen, yes, but so are many other bloggers. One of the big things that sets them apart? An easy to follow recipe index. I don't have one of those, but I'm realizing I need to work on it. It makes me at least ten times more likely to go to them to look for things to try... just something to think about.)

This post is linked to:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Menu Plan: 8/30- Back to School!

It's our first week of school here! Tuesday is the kids' first day back and I'm sending them off with an energy-boosting power lunch... (They are only 4 and 5 and have half-day school- both will be attending in the PM this year, making life simpler for Mama!)


B-Cereal, Applesauce, Milk
L-Pancakes, Bacon, Apple Slices
D-Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa's


B-Scrambled Eggs, Toast, Juice
L-Pepperoni Pizza (My nephews are spending the day with us! We're looking forward to having them help us make a big ol' pizza to feed all five kids-- ages 1 to 10. :))
D-Lynn's Zucchini "Pizza"

Tuesday: (Our first day of school!)

B-Yogurt Muffins, Apple Slices, Milk
L-PB Toast, Choc Banana Smoothies (using chocolate yogurt as the chocolate part), lots of Fresh Fruit
D-Sweet & Sour Steak and Veggies over Rice


B-Oatmeal with Apples & Raisins, Milk
L-Cheesy Beans & Rice, Water
D-Pigs in Blankets, Corn, Baked Beans


B-Hard-boiled Eggs, Yogurt Muffins, Juice
L-P,B,&J, Apples, Milk


B-Smoothies, Toast
L-Pigs in Blankets, Applesauce, Milk


B-Sausage "McGriddle" Sandwiches
D-Grilled Herb Marinated Chicken Thighs, Baked Beans, Biscuits (I'd just like to take a moment and confess to you all how hard that whole "marinade"/"marinate" thing is for me... I have to think SO hard every time. Am I the only one? Please, oh please, tell me there's someone else out there who struggles too...)

I'm really looking forward to Amy's Yogurt Muffins and Hard-Boiled Eggs on Thursday... I sometimes forget just how much my whole family likes hard-boiled eggs! Well, that's not entirely true. I don't like hard-boiled egg yolks... at all. Still, I love the whites (with a little salt!) and my four-year old happily scarfs up the extra yolks. Do you like hard-boiled eggs... and not just in the form of deviled eggs? ;)

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Three Top Recommendations if You Give Birth Scary Early

I hope you never need these tips. I pray (everyday- seriously) that fewer and fewer babies are born so very early. But it does happen. If you happen to be one of the ones who has a very, very premature baby, here are my three biggest recommendations for you:

  1. Try to breastfeed. (Or pump.) There are times when mom's health hangs too much in the balance to make this a viable possibility but, if there's even a small chance, try to nurse. While breastfeeding is the gold standard for ALL babies, it is even more critical for these tiny preemies. Full-term newborns have received a whole lot of antibodies through the placenta during the third trimester. Very early preemies miss out on that last trimester and, as a result, all those antibodies. Breast milk is the ONLY way for mom to pass on that protection. Try.
  2. Be nice to the nurses. (And the doctors... but especially the nurses.) The nurses who care for your baby will prove to be an invaluable resource to you. They can tell you, frankly, how your baby's doing. They are often the gatekeepers to when you are allowed to change, touch, or hold your baby. They can get you the answers you need. Nurses witness all manner of things and have to deal with all manner of people. Try to be the kind of person someone would want to help and your road will be much smoother.
  3. Take care of yourself. You know that old adage about putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting your children? Yeah... my husband and I always roll our eyes at that a little bit just because it's very hard to imagine not taking care of our babies first. Still... you need to eat. You need to sleep. You need to realize you gave birth to a baby and, as such, need to recover. I am not in the camp that suggests you "go to a movie and out to dinner" and all that... but that's more just because I don't go out and do those things if I have a full-term healthy infant either. It takes me a long time to want to go out and leave a baby behind. That's just me and I'm not judging people who choose to "get away". What I'm saying is this: if you're not nourished and rested, you can't focus and make the best choices for your baby. You're going to have a lot thrown at you. It pays to be clear-headed.

There you go. Those are my three top tips if you're facing life after just having given birth what I call "scary early"...

What three tips do you have? Or what three things can you teach me?

"Women Have Rights" and blah, blah, blah...

Yesterday, I followed a link from my BlogHer sidebar over there on the right for an article entitled "Should Bars Refuse to Serve Pregnant Women?"

I really should have known better. Somehow I guess I thought that at least most of the commenters would share my opinion which, for the record, is...

"Um, NO. Absolutely not. They should NOT serve pregnant women."

I was wrong.

Turns out most of the comments centered around how refusing to serve a pregnant woman is sexist. That's it's prejudice against women. That it's a gender-issue and, after all, these are grown women who have a right to do what they want! No one could tell a man he couldn't drink because pregnancy is a uniquely "female" issue. Over and over, women insisted that we can not and should not put the well-being of a mere fetus over the choices of a grown woman who is already on this earth and, thus, is entitled to more rights than some little bunch of cells.

When did we women become so short-sighted that we can't see beyond our "rights to do what we want when we want"? When did we decide that having a glass of wine now is more important and more empowering than being the ones to bring life- life- into this world?

I just don't understand why someone would choose to bring a little life into the world if she doesn't want to take care of it. I don't think I'm being punished by being the one who carries our babies. I don't think my husband is oh-so-much luckier to not have a child within him. I am so blessed to have that honor and responsibility. I've never once felt "put out" by having a life growing inside of me... even when it meant enduring caffeine withdrawal headaches when I foolishly went cold-turkey with my first.

I realize, yes, that there are different opinions on how much (if any) alcohol is safe during pregnancy. There's no general consensus on that one other than the fact that "too much" is bad. Doesn't it make sense for a bar or restaurant to ere on the side of caution? If my five year old grabbed a beer and took a swig, it's unlikely to do any real harm. Does that make it right or something I should encourage? Of course not. It's too hard to determine "how much is safe" and that's part of why we just don't serve alcohol to children... and I think the unborn variety should be included in that.

Back when I was a waitress, I refused to serve a pregnant woman the glass of white zinfandel that she ordered. I have no regrets about that.

But, apparently, I'm in the minority with my views. I was shocked, to be honest. And maybe that's because I have a feeling many, if not most, of my readers might agree with me...

So... do you?

Monday, August 23, 2010

10 Ways to Serve Up Cheese Bread

It all started with Tammy's recipe for Italian Cheese Bread. It is SO good. I encourage you to just make it as is and eat it until you're stuffed. I have made that recipe more times than I can count and it is always well-received.

I've been making it for over two years now and, perhaps a year ago, it finally occurred to me that, really, what I had learned was a method. I gave myself permission to go wild with different dressings, cheeses, herbs, etc. and a whole new world opened up! After you've made (and fallen in love with) Tammy's recipe, come on back to me and try one of these ten variations*:

  1. Honey Mustard & Kosher Salt, dipped in a cheese sauce
  2. Butter, Rosemary, & a little Blue Cheese
  3. Ranch dressing, Cheddar Cheese, & Bacon Bits
  4. Thin Layer of Taco Sauce, Cheddar Cheese, & very thinly sliced Tomatoes
  5. Ranch Dressing & PepperJack Cheese (the ranch cools the pepperjack!)
  6. Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing, Tarragon, Mozzarella, & Freshly Grated Parmesan
  7. Caesar Dressing, Jack Cheese, & Thinly Sliced Olives
  8. French Dressing, Dill, Swiss Cheese, Skinny Strips of Deli Ham
  9. Italian Dressing, Smoked Gouda, Roasted Red Pepper strips
  10. Olive Oil, Roasted Garlic, Fresh Basil, Fresh Mozzarella
*Prepare the dough exactly as Tammy's recipe indicates. Stop before adding the dressing and herbs and top with one of the above combos... yum!

(I have had great success with halving Tammy's recipe and preparing a smaller bread in a 9" round cake pan. I do this all the time to have fresh bread with soup for lunch!)

This post is linked to:

Preparing Your Child For Public Kindergarten

My dear friend Jessica over at Life as MOM has so much wonderful advice to give. She has SIX children, you realize, so she comes armed with a whole lot of experience. While she has experience teaching in the public school system (and attending it herself back in the day!), she has chosen to homeschool her children. Since "sending children off to public school" is not on her résumé, I've been given the happy opportunity to share some "public school stuff" over there. Because, at the end of the day... no matter how we choose to educate our kids, we all want to be "on the road to joyful motherhood."

Go check out my latest contribution: Preparing Your Child For Public Kindergarten

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Menu Plan: 8/22- The Last Week of Summer Break Plan

Sigh... all my lovely plans last week for our leisurely Thursday breakfasts went up in smoke. Turns out my husband has meetings every Thursday morning. Bummer! Still, I make my menu plans for four weeks at a time so, as a result, this week's Thursday morning calls for one of Daddy's favorite morning meals. I may just have to get up extra, extra early to make it for him!


B-Cereal, Yogurt, Juice
L-Scrambled Eggs w/ Bacon, Toast, Leftover Cinnamon Rolls (Given the choice of whole wheat toast or cinnamon roll, which would you choose? For my family, I made ONE piece of toast... ;))
D-Burgers, Sliced Tomatoes (from the garden!), Corn on the Cob, Chips


B-Banana Bread, Cheese, Juice
L-Rice, Hot Dog, Strawberries, Milk
D-Meatball, Bell Pepper, & Onion Grinders


B-Cereal, Applesauce, Milk
L-Zucchini Pizza Slices (thanks, Jessie, for pointing these out on Twitter!), Yogurt, Juice
D-Lynn's Chicken & Bacon Lo Mein


B-Toasted Banana Bread w/ PB, Milk
L-Lo Mein, Tangerines, Milk
D-Beef Soft Tacos


B-English Muffins w/ Poached Eggs, Clementines (I scored 3.5 # of mixed clementines and tangerines for $1.50 recently... nice!)
L-Cheese Quesadilla, Applesauce, Milk
D-Souped-Up Tomato Soup, Cheese Bread (I've shared 10 ways to soup up tomato soup with you before... tomorrow I'll share ten different twists when baking your cheese bread!)


B-Smoothies, Fruit
L-Cheese Bread, Grapes, Milk
D-Extra, Extra Cheese Pizza on a Cracker Crust


B-Banana Bread, Scrambled Eggs w/ Cheese
D-Turkey Burgers w/ Cheddar and Sliced Apple on Pitas (I really prefer Granny Smith apples for this meal, but I think the ones I have are organic Fiji... they'll have to do!)

Lynn's Mexican Chicken Salad was a hit last week! The kids liked it wrapped up in tortillas. Me? I like any excuse to make chips a major part of my meal. ;) Because I had chopped cooked chicken breast in my freezer, I didn't have to heat a single thing up in my kitchen and we still had a yummy, filling meal that covered all the food groups. In case you missed it, I shared how I make my own homemade Ranch-Style Beans last week... they came in handy with Lynn's recipe!

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Should Of Told You Sooner...

Where's my brain???

How did I forget to tell you all that I had the fun opportunity to guest post over at Vanderbilt Wife???

Go check it out HERE!

(Any guesses what I might be talking about over there??? ;))

Cinderella Times Three

"Mama... may we PLEASE scrub the floor for you?"

These are my children. This is my life

There are sticky fingers and messy floors. Tears and accidents. Laundry and diapers.

But there they are... thrilled to "help mama". Delighted to "do their part". Proud to be my helpers.

Life is so, so good.

This post is linked to Finer Things Friday.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Three Things You Shouldn't Take For Granted With Your Newborn

There are so, so many things you should not take for granted when you have a child. We all do, though. It's human nature not to realize your blessings until you don't have them. How many of us really think about how good we feel until, suddenly, we don't?

When you have an extremely early preemie, there are so many major, major health concerns. Those occupy a lot of your thoughts. In between them, however, here are three little things that occupy the minds of micropreemie parents that parents of full-termers likely take for granted:

  1. Hearing your baby cry. I was so, so blessed... I actually heard my baby cry at birth. This is incredibly rare for a baby born at 24 weeks. But, even with that, she was so tiny and just not strong enough to keep breathing on her own and had to be intubated. For as long as she was on the ventilator (and, for micropreemies, that is often quite a long time), she could not cry. She had no voice at all. Babies who end up needing tracheotomies go an even longer stretch without being able to cry to communicate. It is HARD for the parents. We would gladly hold and soothe a wailing baby. We just don't get the chance.
  2. Seeing your baby's eyes. Most newborns spend a whole lot of time with their eyes closed- sleeping. Those few newborns who do not probably have parents who likely wish they saw a little bit MORE of their baby's eyelids! But what if you never saw your baby's eyes? What if you had no idea what color, shape, and size they might be? Such is the case for many micropreemie parents. Our babies are usually born with their eyes still fused together. We have to wait days, or weeks, before those eyes open up. It's hard to wait that long to gaze into your child's eyes...
  3. Changing your baby's diaper. This is one of those tasks that is often playfully pushed back and forth between parents, "Uh, uh... he's stinky! He's your baby when he's stinky!" Tee hee hee. ;) It's different for micropreemie parents. In those early weeks, we never get to hold our babies. We aren't allowed to touch them much. We watch them from outside their glass boxes. When a nurse asks us, "Would you like to change his diaper?", we jump up excitedly. We may even argue with each other about whose turn it is... but we want to do it. We don't try to pass the job off. That little bit of contact and care is sometimes all we get for a day or two. We jump at the chance.

So the next time your screaming newborn turns to you with sad or mad eyes and you realize she has a nasty blow-out diaper to change... well, try to be grateful, at least for a moment. And try not to take any of it for granted.

What three things would you like to share with us this week?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homemade Ranch Style Beans

I buy dry beans.

I will not judge you in the least if you feel that the convenience of canned beans is worth the cost. Quite frankly, canned beans are still a very frugal quality protein. But for me, dried beans are the way to go. I like that they're cheap, store easily, and I can prepare as many or as few as I'd like at a time.

This method works very well for me and, as a result, I just don't keep canned beans on hand. I never have any issues with this...

Until I find a recipe that calls for "ranch style beans". And I never have them. Well, yes, of course I could keep a can or two on hand since I'm aware that this issue can come up. But, to be honest, I just forget. I don't use them often enough to think about them. I'm also just not the type to run to the store to pick up one or two items. If I don't have it, I live without it.

Here's what I've found works for me:

Homemade Substitute Ranch-Style Beans
(about 1 can's worth)

1 cup dried pintos
2 tablespoons taco sauce
1/4 cup additional water

Soak and cook pintos using your usual method (overnight, quick soak, crock pot, whatever floats your boat). Drain. Add pintos, taco sauce, and 1/4 cup water to small saucepan. Simmer over low to medium heat until liquid is reduced and thickened (but still saucy). Voila.

Would you consider making your own ranch-style beans? Or do you think I'm just cheap or lazy or forgetful? ;)

This post is linked to Works For Me Wednesday.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ten Bittersweet Baby Moments

Do you remember...

  1. ...the first time your baby WANTED you to put her down so she could get moving?
  2. ...having to pack up those first tiny outfits knowing your baby would never wear them again?
  3. ...realizing it was time to stop swaddling?
  4. ...when the "slap-slap" of little hands and knees on hard floors was replaced with the pitter-pat of little feet?
  5. ...how it seemed like one day your baby became interested in grabbing things other than just your finger?
  6. ...knowing that it was time for your baby to be introduced to new foods and acknowledging that you could no longer take full credit for every ounce of growth? ;)
  7. ...when it suddenly hit you that your baby would no longer stay where you put him and nothing was "safe" anymore?
  8. ...the day when your baby no longer seemed (so) interested in the bottle, the binky, or (most of all) the breast and, while you knew that was good and natural, it also hurt a little?
  9. ...when that gummy grin became a toothy grin?
  10. ...noticing the hand dimples were gone?
That last one is so hard on me. I love those hand dimples. My baby still has them at fourteen months and likely will for awhile. I kiss them EVERY DAY.

What baby moments and milestones were bittersweet for you? Did you ever shed a tear even as you knew your child was moving in the right direction? Do share!

Menu Plan: 8/15- The "New Job, New Thursday" Plan

My husband starts a new job today (Monday) and, with it, comes a slightly different schedule. The one thing we know for sure is that he will no longer have to work on Saturdays... can I get a big cheer for that one??? His weekdays will run just a tad later, but that shouldn't affect our dinner plans. The only day with a significant change? Thursday. In this new position, he'll be going in a little later on Thursday morning and working later in the evening. As a result, I'm trying out something new with our menu-planning.... Thursdays now include a hearty breakfast and a quick, simple supper. Since both my older kids will be in "PM" school starting the end of this month, we should be able to keep that routine going. I'll let you know how it goes!


B-Cereal, Grapes, Milk
L-Baked Oatmeal, Berries, Milk
D-Went out for supper to celebrate Hubby's new job starting on Monday!


B-Baked Oatmeal, Grapes, Milk
L-Grilled Cheese, Peas, Juice
D-Spaghetti & Meatballs, Broccoli


B-Jelly Toast, Yogurt, Juice
L-Spaghetti, Green Beans, Water
D-Lynn's Mexican Chicken Salad w/ Tortilla Chips


B-Oatmeal, Tangerines, Milk
L-Leftover Chicken Salad on Tortillas, Tomato (from the garden), Milk


B-Scrambled Eggs w/ Cheese, Tater Tots, Fruit
L-P,B,&J, Yogurt, Water
D-Chili & Corn Bread


B-Smoothies, Toast
L-Cheesy Beans & Rice, Water
D-Broccoli, Mushroom, and multi-colored Pepper Pizza


B-Cinnamon Rolls, Sausage Links, Fruit
D-Burgers, Chips, Sliced Tomato (Grill it and eat it outside! Mama, Daddy, and Baby on the screened back porch, preschoolers on the covered platform of their playscape in the backyard.)

That's what's hittin' the table around here! How about at your house?

Oh... and regarding the salmon experiment? Four out of the five of us really liked it! (Can you guess who the hold-out was? Hint... it wasn't a man or a child. *blush*) My five-year old has already requested it for next month's menu plan. I'll consider it a success!

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday.

Friday, August 13, 2010

All Grocery Budgets Are Not Created Equal

This is something I've been thinking about for awhile now... and a recent Twitter conversation really got my wheels turning.

All grocery budgets are not created equal.

Do you read those blogs? The ones that post their weekly budgets every week and then list the deals they scored? Me too. I find them so inspirational! I'm fascinated by the different ways we all choose to feed our families and save a buck or two. I've posted my grocery budget once or twice on here too, though it's certainly not a weekly feature.

Sometimes, seeing these super low "grocery budgets" can be encouraging. And sometimes it's just the opposite. It can be frustrating to see someone else feeding the same number of people for 10 or 15 or 20 dollars less a week than you. But here are a few things to think about...

  • Does their budget include going out to eat?
  • Does their budget include household items?
  • Do they use SwagBucks to pick up items that supplement their groceries?
  • Do they have access to more/better coupons than the "average" consumer?
  • Do they have family members/friends who provide them with fresh eggs/milk/meat?
  • Do they garden extensively or have fruit trees on their property?
  • Do they have food allergies/sensitivities to work around?
  • Do they have to follow a specific diet due to religious convictions?
  • Do they stick to only organic or raw foods?

I'm not saying that doing or not doing any one of these things is "cheating". Certainly not. But will it affect a budget? Absolutely! We each come at this whole "food budget" thing from a different place.

For me, it's not just a "grocery budget"... it's a food budget. That means if we decide to go out to eat- a very rare event- I need to find the money within the food budget. I manage to snag most (but not all) of our "household" items (diapers, cleaning products, etc) within that same food budget. I garden, but it's on a fairly small scale. I think I've only managed to earn one $5 Amazon gift card from SwagBucks so far. ;) I buy all my meat, eggs, and milk... none for any great discounts. I would say I get my fair share of "better-than-average" coupons by being a member of VocalPoint, BzzzAgent, and, well, being a blogger. We have no real restrictions, though we try to use as much "real" food as possible. That's my story.

Do I think we should all put a disclaimer on our published budget? Nah. I don't think that's necessary, nor would it be much fun.

What I DO think is that we all need to keep these things in mind as we peruse others' budgets... should I feel bad about myself because I can't feed my family of five for $35/week? Nope.

And neither should you.

This post is linked to Frugal Friday.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Three Things You Should Know About the Preemie Roller Coaster

When you have a micropreemie, the doctors, nurses, and even other parents will start murmuring about something called a "preemie roller coaster". Here are three things you should know about that "roller coaster" if you're the friend or family member of someone with a micropeemie.

  1. Micropreemies, even more than their later-term preemie peers, tend to have a honeymoon period. It's not unusual for a micropreemie to be weaned off a vent, receive increased milk or formula feeds, and be on no significant medication, all within the first week of life and all before getting anywhere close to two pounds. It's truly amazing to witness.
  2. Sometime between 7 and 14 days old, things often head south. Be it an infection, pneumonia, digestive issues, a brain bleed, or something else... oftentimes, one thing goes wrong and it quickly snowballs into a dire situation. The micropreemie who was "doing so well" is suddenly on the brink of tragedy. It is devastating.
  3. No matter how many times people tell the parents about the almost inevitable roller coaster ride, it still cuts them off at the knees. It doesn't matter if it's illogical, you convince yourself that your baby is different. Your baby is going to just keep getting better. As the friend or family, you need to realize that nothing, even being warned, has prepared the parents for the life-altering moment when their baby's health starts to go downhill. Be willing to listen, commiserate and, as always, PRAY. This is what micropreemie parents need from you.
Have you ever faced a health crisis that felt like a roller coaster ride? Do you think it's easier or harder to have those "ups" thrown in with the "downs"?

What "3 Things" can you share with us this week?

Being Stewards of What We've Been Given

We stood behind her in line. I clutched twenty-two dollars in cash in my hand to pay for the rice, pasta, veggies, milk, and cheese in the cart. Realizing I had forgotten to pick up chicken, I sent my husband to the back of the store advising him, "Find a package that's less than three dollars. That's all we have." So he did.

The woman before me shoved her three boxes of Eggos and 2-liter bottle of Pepsi further up the belt with long, acrylic-nailed hands. She put down a plastic order divider and tossed a pack of skinny little cigars behind it. I waited.

The clerk rang up the first portion of her order- the frozen waffles and soda- and she paid with food stamps. She paid for the cigars from a wad of cash.

Fast-forward five years.

I lived in a new state. I stood, very pregnant, in an express line with my 3- and 4-year olds early one morning. I'd needed whole wheat flour and kosher salt. I had a five dollar bill and a whole mess of change. I remember it so clearly.

The man in front of me was buying two king-size Butterfinger bars and a 20 oz Mountain Dew. "Breakfast," he mumbled to the cashier. He, too, paid with food stamps.

* * * * * * * * * *

I want to be very clear when I say that I'm not writing this to say I think that food stamps are wrong. I am also not insinuating that all people receiving assistance in the way of food stamps are making such poor decisions.


I feel like if the government is going to give out money to ensure that people are getting properly nourished then, well, there should be a way of making sure that money is going toward good, nourishing food. I also think that, while I don't think less of someone for needing some help, I also do not think it is too much to ask someone receiving assistance to do a little work and forego a bit of convenience.

I believe food stamps (which I know have been transformed into some kind of card, the initials for which elude me at the moment) need to be more like WIC. The WIC office issues checks for specific items. Yes, the bearer has some choices but, for the most part, there is no getting around getting wholesome food-- milk, cheese, dried beans, peanut butter, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. Is it a perfect system? No. (In case you were unaware... there is no perfect system.) But I think it goes a long way in eliminating some truly poor decisions.

It is my duty to be a good steward of the blessings I've been given... to make good and healthy choices with the money I am allotted each month. Is it too much to expect others to do the same? Is it petty of me to find it a trifle unfair that I need to make sure I am oh-so-careful about the choices I make while others (who are relying on someone else to supplement their diets) lean heavily on processed convenience?

It's just something I've been thinking about. And something I've wondered if any of you thought about...

Praying for Baby M.

A week ago, one of my cousins (one of the four of us who are the exact same age!) sent me an email letting me know about her friend whose baby girl had been born way too early. She wondered if I had some encouraging words to offer the family. (I did.) She also passed on their CaringBridge site to me. In case you didn't know, we kept a CaringBridge page chronicling C's journey for a very long time. In fact, for a little while there, it overlapped with my blogging until that got to be too much and I eventually let the CB page slide. Incidentally, if you're interested in knowing a whole lot more about those early days and, quite frankly, more details about our family, you can still access that page here.

I pulled up the site and quickly became engrossed in their story. I read through each and every update of this sweet baby girl's first six days of life. They say baby girls are tougher and this little darling is no exception. I smiled at her feistiness and silently cheered for all her little victories. My husband read it all too. We smiled at each other and we recalled our own feisty, "beat-the-odds" baby girl. But then I said it...

"I'm afraid this is the honeymoon and they're just getting started on the ride. I'm really scared for the crash..."

And then, two days ago, the journal entry that began, "Well, the honeymoon is officially over..."

And I cried.

I saw it coming, but I cried.

It doesn't get easier.

My heart breaks for families who are going through the whole micropreemie roller coaster ride. Even when I know exactly what to expect and, having been through it, I even know you can come out unscathed on the other side... even then, it positively twists my insides to watch others face the sudden devastation that a single blip can cause with these tiny babies.

My average days now aren't that much different from any other mom of three little ones. Watching my children play, one would be hard-pressed to know for sure which one was born so dramatically early. We only see one specialist... and he's an eye doctor. Not exactly anything too scary or alarming. I can go days or weeks without dwelling too much on what all we went through.

And then I read about babies like this sweet little M. and it all comes rushing back. I am once again back in the NICU, listening to the beeps and alarms. I am stumbling, bleary-eyed down the hospital corridor to find a pumping room. I am caring for my 10-month in the Ronald McDonald House when the phone rings and I hear...

So I pray. I pray each and every day for these precious babies born way too soon. And, today, I ask that you take just a quick moment and pray for Baby M, born weighing only 1 lb 11 oz, and currently fighting an infection that is oh, so much work for such a tiny little babe. Pray with me, my friends... please.

I know, I know, the effect of prayer. I know what a difference it made to have people all over this country praying for my beloved baby girl. Even doctors have told me that, without that prayer, she would not be here today.

And so I pray for another precious, precious baby. Won't you join me?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Taco Pie

Oh, this one's SO easy... and yummy! I like to make this kid-friendly dish a day ahead of time and just toss it in the fridge. I bet it would work well for once-a-month-cooking too, but I'm not really on board with that yet. Yes, yes, Jessica, I know... ;)

Taco Pie

1 lb gr. beef
1 T chili powder
1 t basil
1 t oregano
1/2 t garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 t and 1/8 t, respectively)
2 T olive oil
15 oz can tomato sauce
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes (less if you don't much like heat!)
4 10" flour tortillas
16 oz can refried beans (I cook up and mash 1 cup dry pinto beans... I season them with a little salt, cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder.)
8 oz grated cheddar (I like mine sharp!)

Brown ground beef and drain. Stir in chili powder, 1/2 t basil, 1/2 t oregano, and 1/4 t garlic powder. Meanwhile, heat oil, tomato sauce, and remaining herbs and spices in a sauce pan over medium heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Add half of sauce to meat and mix well. Place a flour tortilla on bottom of deep dish pie plate or casserole and spread with sauce. Top with a layer of beans, then meat, then cheese. Repeat until last flour tortilla. Top with remaining sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Remove foil; allow to brown.

I have to make a separate, smaller, "bean-free" version of this dish for my husband. He's a pretty adventurous eater, but he just can't do beans. It can be tough since I'm a true bean LOVER! I love him more than beans, though, so I make the separate pie.

What special concessions do you have to make in cooking for your spouse?

This post is linked to:

Menu Plan: 8/8- The "Try Salmon" Plan

We have food again! After last week's desperation plan, it feels good to have a well-stocked fridge and pantry. The toughest part of last week was when I ran out of butter, oil, AND milk. I was beginning to feel a little trapped and, well, desperate. Still, we all survived and, quite frankly, still ate very well. It's a good reminder, every now and again, about just how blessed we are. We live in abundance and being without milk or butter is really not a tragedy. Too often, I think we rush out to fill any missing "necessities" without considering just how lucky we are to usually have them...

Blessed I am, though, and the cupboards are full. So here we go...


B-Cereal, Yogurt, Juice
L-French Toast, Berries, & Bananas
D-Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa's house- I took the Raspberry Sherbet Pie or dessert!


B-Oatmeal, Raisins, Milk
L-P, B, & J on rolls, Grapes, Water
D-Taco Pie (recipe coming tomorrow!)


B-French Toast, Fruit, Cheese, Water
L-Taco PIe, Corn, Milk
D-Salmon, Fingerling Potatoes, Green Beans (Guess what? I don't like salmon. Neither does my hubby. But on that list of "10 Superfoods for Kids", it is the ONLY thing my children do not currently eat regularly. Do they like it? I don't know. Shamefully, I've never served it to them. This is the week...)


B-Jelly Toast, Yogurt, Juice
L-Salmon Salad Sandwiches, Apples, Milk


B-Oatmeal, Yogurt, Juice
L-Scrambled Egg, Cinnamon/Sugar Toast, Applesauce, Milk
D-Poor Man's Chicken Parmesan, Pasta, Green Beans


B-Smoothies, Fruit
L-Pasta with Sauce, Green Beans, Milk
D-Pepperoni & Meatball Pizza


B-Egg Sandwiches with Veggies (pssst... guess what? I prefer veggies to fruit BIG time. I absolutely love having broccoli, onion, peppers, spinach and the like with my eggs!)
D-Flank Steak with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce, Salad

Do you like salmon? What's your favorite way to prepare it? I'd love to learn to like it! It's SO good for you...

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Saving Money On Fancy Cheese

When I shared my Baked Rotini recipe the other day, I mentioned how I had a chunk of provolone to use from a package of cheese ends I'd picked up from the deli. This is something I do fairly frequently.

At one of my local grocery stores, they sell the scraps and leftover pieces of cheese from the deli in packages for $3.99/lb. Now, listen...

Almost four bucks a pound is not a remarkable price for cheddar or mozzarella or American cheese... you've kind of got to peer into the shrink wrap and try to determine what might be in there. In the past I've scored provolone, aged swiss, havarti dill, smoked gouda, and- most notably, a gigantic chunk of gruyere. One would be hard-pressed to find any of those cheeses being sold for less than five dollars a pound!

My store happens to just package them up and sell them that way. If yours does not, it may be worth speaking to the deli manager. You could probably score an even better deal than I'm getting. If they're not already marketing them, they may be happy just to make a couple bucks off what could just be considered waste!

This post is linked to Frugal Friday.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Three Things You Should Know About Clothes Shopping For a Micropreemie

When a new baby is born, we love to give sweet little baby clothes as gifts. Those tiny little outfits are just so darn cute! I received some baby clothes when my 24-wkr was born as well. Here are three things to keep in mind if you decide to give a gift of clothing to the parent of a micropreemie:

  1. Micropreemies are not allowed to wear clothes at first. Their body temperatures must be carefully monitored and controlled in their incubators or isolettes. In addition, they usually have so many tubes and wires coming from them that clothing would just get tangled and be in the way.
  2. Once they are allowed to wear clothes, simple things are best. If you (or people you know) happen to be handy, making cute little "hospital gown" type garments out of sweet little prints can be ideal. If not, look for basic garments with easy-access and snaps instead of zippers- nurses need to be able to thread those wires and tubes through there.
  3. "Preemie"-sized clothing will likely be too big for quite some time. You can certainly find clothing specially sized for these very tiny babies. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law both purchased outfits for our C from one of these online shops. If that's too much trouble, standard preemie clothing is readily available at many mass-retailers and the baby will certainly need it at some point! Walmart is probably the most well-known store and they carry a large selection. For my micropreemie, I found the Walmart clothes to be a tad "short and wide". Gymboree has a cute line for preemies and their garments have a slimmer cut to them. We loved their clothing for our daughter. It's pricier than Walmart, to be sure, but we wore those sleepers to death.

Keep in mind that, while many people buy a couple preemie outfits for their 5- or 6- lb babies, those outfits do not fit them for long. With a micropreemie, you will get major mileage out of preemie-sized and, even more so, newborn-sized outfits. For full-term babies, I never recommend buying anything smaller than 0-3 month clothing. For micropreemies? Newborn size is very welcome and appropriate!

One final, frugal note: If you are the parent of the micropreemie and you're looking for more preemie clothes, ask around. Unfortunately, having a preemie is not terribly uncommon and there is likely someone in your family, church, job, or neighborhood who has had an early baby. While not uncommon, preemies are not so common that most people feel the need to save those clothes for future babies or family members.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Warning- You're About to Get in Trouble

I don't know if you have this particular custom in your neck of the woods but, here in Connecticut where I'm at, we have a habit of letting an oncoming car know that a police car lays in wait by flashing our headlights. It's a quick "watch out- you're going to get yourself in trouble!" kind of a message. I am not so naive as to think all the cops don't know we're doing this. Still, it's reassuring to have someone "watching your back" a little bit, even if it's by telling you you need to slow down!

I think we need some kind of Christian equivalent. Some way of letting each other know, "Pssst.... you're about to step in it. Be careful. You're getting off track here..."

How many times have you witnessed something you knew couldn't lead anywhere good but were unsure how to mention it? How many times have I, in my quick-tempered reaction, headed on a path I shouldn't be on? Wouldn't it be nice if we had some subtle, universally recognized sign to give each other? Some little gesture that said, "Hey, friend, slow down. Calm yourself. Is this what Christ wants from you?"

Most of us are afraid to speak up. We don't want to get into long, holier-than-thou discourses. We fear alienating or angering those around us. I mean, who am I to tell you that you're straying from a Christian path? As a result, we just let people meander off-track.

I want a simple way to help each other. A quick "headlight flash" kind of gesture to remind one another to stay aware. A friendly warning.

How about you? Can you think of some simple reminder we could give each other? Would you welcome this or be offended by it?

Subtle warnings work for me and this post is linked to Works For Me Wednesday!

My Top Ten Tips For Exclusive Pumping Success

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I want to share with you all my best advice for pumping success. I wrote a few days ago about how I've exclusively formula-fed, exclusively pumped, and exclusively breastfed! Of the three, pumping was the most work, in my opinion. Here are my top ten tips for successful pumping:

  1. Pump often. Especially in the beginning. It is no fun at ALL to get up every three hours (or every two if you're having supply issues), but it must be done. Rest-assured, once you get your supply established, you'll be able to space out nighttime feedings more. It's the same as feeding a baby, really... well, except you don't have the baby to cuddle and THAT'S why it's no fun at all. But stick with it... it gets easier.
  2. If you can't have your baby with you (as is the case with a baby in NICU), keep a picture of your baby handy. You wouldn't think that would make a huge difference, but it does...
  3. Use a good quality pump. If you're just pumping occasionally here and there but mostly nursing, this isn't critical. But if you're pumping exclusively? Especially in the beginning, I'd really recommend looking into renting a hospital grade pump. It will save you time and frustration. (Contact your insurance company, too... they may pick up some or all of the rental cost if there's a medical reason you must pump for your baby.)
  4. Keep diversions handy. Pumping can be boring. Figure out what will entertain you while you do it. Magazines, an iPod, TV, whatever...
  5. Invest in quality, easy-to-operate nursing bras. You want to be able to easily and comfortably use your pumping equipment. The ones I had were by Medela and I loved them.
  6. Stay hydrated.
  7. Eat. Seriously. Unfortunately, for many women who are exclusively pumping, there are scary circumstances that led up to that choice, often a baby who is struggling. Stress can lead to forgetting to eat. Not a good plan. Nursing (and pumping!) burn more calories than being pregnant does. You wouldn't starve yourself with a baby in your belly... don't do so now either.
  8. Find a cheerleader or two. My husband was so supportive of me when I chose to pump for our 24-wk micropreemie. In those early days, he would get up with me in the middle of the night and help me get all set up. The NICU nurses also would sing my praises. Those "pats on the back" really helped keep me going when it got tough...
  9. Remember that even a little bit can make a big difference. I happen to be one of those women who produces a ton of milk. Not every woman is. And that is OKAY. Whatever you manage to pump for your baby will help your baby, be it four ounces or a half-ounce.
  10. Avoid saboteurs. Know that, like many aspects of motherhood, the decision to pump exclusively (even it's your baby's only viable breast milk option) may come under fire from some other mommies. I was told (more than once) that giving a baby breast milk through an NG-tube or in a bottle was SO inferior to nursing at the breast because of the delivery method, blah, blah, blah. Avoid people who try to make your feel like a failure when you're working so hard to do an amazing thing for your child!
Like so many things worth doing, exclusively pumping can be challenging and nerve-wracking. Stay the course and know that there are other mommies out there with the same worries and struggles as you. You're doing something amazing! Be proud of yourself.

This post is linked to Top Ten {Tuesday}

Monday, August 2, 2010

Baked Rotini with Sausage, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Provolone

Goodness, that's a long title! Of course, it also pretty much tells you every last thing you need to make this dish.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm serving up a "desperation menu" this week in order to eke out a bit more time between shopping trips. A survey of the pantry revealed a bunch of cans of mushrooms (I prefer fresh, but I keep canned on hand "just in case") and a lonely box of rotini. I buy "cheese scraps" from my deli (psst- I once scored gruyere for $3.99/lb this way!) and, in my last pack, I found a reasonably-sized chunk of provolone. I knew I had some chopped green peppers hanging out in the back of my freezer.

But meat? Hmm... what meat to use? Chicken didn't sound right with it. I'm fresh out of ground beef. No Italian sausage on hand. Pepperoni's not substantial enough. Hmm.

I reconsidered my whole plan. For Sunday's after-church brunch, we had pancakes and sausage patties. What if I just made fewer, thinner patties? Would anyone complain? (Answer- nope.) I used a half-pound of my regular breakfast sausage for those patties and saved the rest.

Here's how it goes:

Baked Rotini with Sausage, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Provolone

1 box rotini (mine was 12 oz)
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
1/2 lb Italian sausage OR 1/2 lb regular sausage PLUS 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 cans mushrooms (or 8 oz fresh would be yummy)
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2-3 oz provolone cheese, grated

Prepare rotini according to package directions for al dente. Don't overcook it as it will be going in the oven later on. Meanwhile, brown sausage (and spices, if applicable) in large skillet over medium heat. Drain excess fat. Add peppers and mushrooms and cook just until peppers are tender. Remove from heat. Stir spaghetti sauce into the meat and veggies. Add this sauce to the cooked and drained rotini. Spread in baking dish and top with grated provolone. Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melty and bubbly.

This post is linked to:

Lead Me Lord

Lead me lord, lead me lord!
By the light of truth
To seek and to find the narrow way…
Be my way, be my truth, be my light O lord!
And lead me Lord today…

Menu Plan: 8/1- The Desperation Plan

Ah, desperation week... what is that, you ask? That's when I (unexpectedly) decide that I'm going to make my 4-week food supply from one big shopping trip last five weeks instead. I did it last month and I'm doing it again. What does that mean? More money in our pockets. And a whole lot of creativity. I spent less than five dollars picking up some milk, eggs, bread, watermelon, and marked down bananas. What did I come up with based on what we had? Well, here we go!


B-Oatmeal, Raisins, Milk
L-Pancakes, Sausage (just 1/2 lb... saved the rest for Monday's supper!), Melon
D-Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa's house


B-Leftover Pancakes, Ham, Juice
L-Rice, Pepperoni, Apple Slices, Milk
D-Baked Rotini w/ Sausage, Mushrooms, Peppers, & Provolone (recipe tomorrow!)


B-Mini Breakfast Burritos
L-Buttered Noodles, Corn, Milk
D-Flank Steak, Oven-Roasted Potatoes, Broccoli


B-Oatmeal, Applesauce, Milk
L-Potatoes w/ Broccoli & Cheese, Water


B-Bagels w/ PB, Raisins, Milk
L-Migas w/ Salsa, "Fizzy Juice" (Seltzer with a little bit of juice... they think they're big stuff!)
D-Batter-Dipped Chicken Sandwiches, Green Beans (from the garden), Pickles, and- hopefully, Cherry Tomatoes from the garden... I have OODLES, but they're all still green as I type!


B-Smoothies, Toast
L-Pigs in Blankets, Banana, Milk


B-Bagels w/ Cream Cheese, Sausage Links, Bananas
L-Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, Cinnamon Rolls
D-Pasta Salad w/ Chicken, Carrots, Olives, & Peppers

Saturday's supper is super easy and make-ahead friendly... why is that important for that day? That's the day we'll all be making the 45-minute each way trip to Aldi to stock back up! I always try to plan for a simple supper that can be waiting for us on those days... otherwise, it might be too tempting to pick up something to-go on the way home.

Do you have any tricks for making mealtime easier on those big shopping days?

This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday.