Anxiety: Underneath the Rubble

The more I learn about and am open about my own anxiety and postpartum depression, the more people in my life I learn have a similar reality. I’m learning that those who seem the strongest and have it all together for everyone else around them, usually (secretly) have little to no strength left for themselves. 

Not everyone struggles the same, not every remedy is the same. I don’t know if there is a “solution”, but I have found things that are helpful to me. We are all different, but we can stand together and support each other. 

The Mighty posted a video called The fear of anxiety can also cause it. I encourage you to watch it.

Videos like this, I think are a nice way of someone saying, “I get it, you’re not alone.” Not, “Here’s how I can fix you.” If you know someone who has anxiety, take a minute to watch this video. They may not have all the post-it symptoms, but I’m sure they have a few. This might help you understand a little better, sympathize a little more, and not think the burden falls on you to fix everything. Just love them. Listen to them. 

I am SUCH a fixer by nature, I try to FIX all-the-time! But it’s ironic, and certainly eye-opening at how much it irritates me when someone tries to “fix” me. I am broken. We all are in our own way. That is the reality of the world we live in. Acknowledging the brokenness is the first step to rebuilding.

Anxiety is one piece of that broken puzzle. There is only one person who can truly put the pieces back together to reveal that beautiful picture, and that’s Jesus. And he did it on the cross. When we celebrate his resurrection, we celebrate Him making all things new again. When we acknowledge that the stripes on His back were put there to heal us, the resurrection in our own life can begin. 

This is the same broken world that it always has been, but we have hope in Him, that in the end it has already been restored.

But in the meantime, in our brokenness, at the bottom of all the rubble is someone who just wants to be heard and lifted up, encouraged. It’s Jesus’ job to do the healing. It’s our job to do the loving. We lean on His word and his promises to be our strength, to be our truth. But we need His people to surround us and show us the love and compassion and relationship for which He put us here.

I want to be one of those people. What about you?

I hope this finds you encouraged today! You’re not alone. If you need a listening ear. I’m here. Send me a message. 

  *theodysseyonline.org

Strength for Today

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God, gives us strength, Even though we can’t see Him.(repeat)

He gives us joy. He makes lots of things. He made cats and pigs and dogs and all of the animals at the zoo. And He made all of the horses too. 

God, gives us strength, Even though we can’t see Him. (repeat)

LilyBelle was not having it. Minutes turned into hours which turned into all night of screaming. Absolutely inconsolable screaming!!

Finally after thrashing her body around in our bed most of the night, she passed out at 3:45am to then wake up again at 5:45am wide-eyed and ready to play.

I was not!

Not long after, were both kids awake and at full throttle and I just couldn’t get myself in gear.  My husband had full-leaded coffee ready for me before he left for his early morning, and I sat and prayed all breakfast for strength and energy and patience to make it even another 5 minutes without snapping. 

I excused myself from breakfast and let my kids entertain each other so I could try to #breathe.

My Munchckin comes running up to me,”Mommy! Mommy! I cleaned up my oatmeal. I did it all by myself! Look! I threw it in the garbage!”

 Oh no! Danielle, pull it together. There will probably be oatmeal all over the floor and trash can, but don’t crush his spirit. He’s THREE. And he’s trying. Get ready to be proud of him and teach him gently. God, give me patience, gentleness and self-control.

We held hands. I scanned the dining room and kitchen floor to ceiling searching for this slop of oatmeal that we needed to clean. Nothing. Spotless. He opens the trash and there it was, a small little pile of oatmeal he hadn’t finished, his spoon in the sink and his bowl set back on the table nicely so it wouldn’t break.

“Wow, Bud! Thank you for cleaning up!”

“Ya! I did it all by myself because ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ even when things are hard. Mommy, I want Jesus here. Can He come in our house?” #proudmommoment

“Jesus is here, Bud. He’s here because we’ve invited Him to be a part of our lives.”

“But I want to see Jesus.”

I gently picked him up and show him the leaves rustling on the trees. 

“Do you see the leaves moving?” (Ya.) “What causes the leaves to move?” (Wind.) “Can we see the wind?” (No, but we see the leaves move.) “Exactly! We can’t see Jesus’ face, but we know He’s here because we see what He is doing in our lives.” (Oh, like love and people.) “Yep! That’s right! He’s our love to people, our strength when things are hard, and peace when we’re scared.”

He picks up his guitar and starts singing at the top of his lungs. I quickly grabbed a pen and paper (and he did too, as you can see) and asked if I could write this beautiful song of his heart down so we could remember it and sing it together.   

I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

Through this exhaustion, battling the “I can’t do this” and the “I am alone” lies, I have realized I have strength because Christ is in me. But I must seek Him daily.

It doesn’t matter how many times I hear that I’m a good mom; I will always feel empty, weak, un-acknowledged, and worthless if my value does not come from God.

Operating with strength means operating in faith. 

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:2

My strength comes from God. If my faith is blocked, God’s strength in me is blocked. 

I found notes from a women’s bible study I attended a few years ago titled The Barriers to our Faith and began to take personal inventory. 

I want to share with you the following barriers to my faith and the questions that go with them.  If you can relate at all to what I’ve shared, I encourage you to look at the list and evaluate your own life. Doing this self-reflection made me realize I dwell on some of these questions daily. They are in the back of my mind steering the course of my day, my attitude, my reactions, and to be quite honest, it usually ends up ugly.

Worry: Am I making the healthiest choices for my kids and their future success?

Fear: Will people accept me for who I am? Will something terrible happen to my husband and kids? Will I be left all alone?

Doubt: Am I good enough? Do I have purpose?

My past: Are there people I have not forgiven? Am I one of them? 

Distance from God: (until recently) I was not spending time praying or reading the Bible very often at all.

Depression: Post-partum hormones and emotions associated.

Anxiety: Am I doing everything “right”? I’ve realized that for me anxiety and fear are very much correlated; one doesn’t exist without the other. 

She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.

Proverbs 31:17

Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭31:25‬ ‭

  I love these verses (and all of proverbs 31, for that matter) because it reminds me that strength is woven into my DNA as God’s creation and as a woman living for the purpose He created me. I can’t be the mom, wife, daughter, sister or friend He created me to be if I don’t include Him in the process.

Being Mommy to these two precious kiddos is teaching me so much about me. 

Who am I? What do I value? Who do I value? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Do I have influence? Am I using it? Am I living with integrity? When my kids look back, will they be able to look past my hang-ups (and how I’ve messed them up) and be proud to call me Mommy? 

Will they see God’s love and grace in me and through me?

Is there something or someone that has shaken your world so much, you constantly evaluate and reevaluate what life is really about? Do you know who you are? Do you know your purpose? Do you know you have a purpose

I now realize these self-shaming questions, “am I good enough?” or “am I doing enough?” Or the “I can’t do this,” and “I am alone,” are a reflection of God not being the center of my life.  They are I-centered not God-centered. 

It’s taken over a year of listening to the *God Centered Mom podcast for me to take full ownership that my life has not been, well, that: God-Centered. As Heather MacFadyen encourages listeners every episode, it’s time I start to “replace me with He.”

I may have been going through the motions of church, Bible study, talking about Him to people, teaching my kids, listening to podcasts… but God doesn’t ask for our motions or our actions, He asks for our heart. And gives us the choice to give it to Him. All of the above are not bad, but they should come from the overflow of His love in me, not out of mere duty or, frankly, habit. 
I stumbled on this verse, right now in fact, as I am writing out my thoughts.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12

Relying on my own strength is what leads to exhaustion and negativity, and worry and fear and doubt and distance from God and depression and anxiety.  

   

 Just like each new day I encourage, teach and coach my kids to explore, take risks, and trust me to help them along the way, I need to remember God wants me to trust Him all the more. We will fall, we will fail, but He picks us back up, wraps His arms around us as if to say, “It’s ok. I’m here. I love you. Let’s try again.”

God used my three year old son to answer my desperate prayer for strength and remind me: 

“God, gives us strength, even though we can’t see Him.”

I’m so grateful God’s grace covers me and all of my imperfections. I am humbled that inspite of my inadequacies, God gives me strength for today. 

I’ll leave you with this thought that I tell my kids several times a day, and that I need to remind myself:

 “Let God pour so much of His love into your life that it can’t help but overflow and pour out into those around you.” 

It is in that love that you will find strength for today.


*note to parents: This podcast has been so encouraging to me. Every episode Heather MacFadyen interviews different Moms and Dads who have gone before us on this parenting journey. Whether it’s a Mom of one or ten, in her 20s or 80s, established a world-wide platform of millions or her platform is her home’s living room floor, there are gems to take away from every episode. I highly encourage you to check it out! Here’s the link again: God Centered Mom

Depression: Breaking the Silence

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 He turned my mourning into dancing again. He’s lifted my sorrows. I can’t stay silent; I must song for his joy has come.

-Ron Kenoly

It’s probably been 15 years since I last heard this song, but music has a way of flooding my spirit and speaking for me when I don’t always have the right words. 

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m turning a page. I’m writing again. At least today I am. Baby steps. This is the next step to freedom for me. I’m not sure what this season brings, but I’m ready to write again. After over a year of unintentional hiatus, I invite you back to join me on this next journey.

A time to keep silence, And a time to speak.

-Ecclesiastes 7b

Post-partum depression is real, and it is certainly different for everyone.  It can feel like a overwhelming darkness, or a heaviness consuming your body, or an anxiety that makes everything seem absolutely unbearable.

There have been times that this depression and anxiety roller coaster leave me feeling all of those physical responses to my scattered mind countless times in a day. 

The beginning was a fog. I went through the motions day-to-day with a disconnect between my brain, my heart, and my body. It was almost as if I was watching my life happen without getting to be part of it. I never wanted to hurt myself or anyone else; I just wanted to curl up underneath my down comforter, disappear for awhile, and actually believe the world could function for a few moments without my participation.  There were stages of having no idea anything was wrong, to being drastically aware and dumping the hateful self-talk that just seemed to bury me deeper. 

After having MyMunchkin I had similar feelings, but I managed to shift my thinking, smile, and change my paradigm without getting consumed. This time around its been quite different.

My story: LilyBelle  

We welcomed our beautiful baby girl, three weeks early, in November 2014. Our precious little flower, Lily, the perfect addition to our now family-of-four. My Munchkin was so excited to be a brother. He went to all my appointments, listened to her heartbeat, saw her on the ultrasounds, and put up with my arranging and rearranging of their bedroom time and time again; he was ready. 

When he came to meet her in the hospital he sat next to us in the hospital bed, just 23 months old, looked at me, looked at Lily, touched my belly, then reached out and gently placed his hand on Lily’s chest and said, “Heartbeat. Heartbeat, Baby Sister’s heartbeat! Not in Mommy’s tummy anymore.” We melted.

After an unexpected and very fast labor and delivery (bunny trail: the nurse actually told me not to push because the doctor wasn’t there yet, and then said it was more paperwork for her if she delivered my baby not him), and a whirlwind of beautiful moments with BabyGirl, I couldn’t sleep. I had my perfect little family and a surge of adrenaline; I was done being at the hospital. The whole experience was a neusence to the incredible miracle that this experience was created to be. I needed to be home!

Home. Visitors. House Guests. Helpers. 

All there to greet and spoil Miss LilyBelle with all things girly, and help us with whatever we asked. From as far as Idaho and Colorado, and from The Central Valley to South OC we had visitors sacrificing their time to stay with us, shop for us, cook for us, and even do laundry (thank you Auntie Em!!) for us.

Alone. Isolated. 

Nothing was enough. Why was all of their sacrifice never enough? It was never the right way or my way or what I needed. Not enough people in the house. Too many people in the house. Not the way I would cook. Stop asking me how to cook it!  Just help with Daniel. No, I want time with MyMunchkin; hold the baby. I just need sleep! Stop asking me if I need a nap; don’t you know me well enough to know I can’t nap?! Of course I need a nap, but it’s never going to happen. Because if I go to sleep the rest of my world is going to fall apart.

This is illogical, irrational, unfair, unloving, selfish…not me, not my heart! Stop this thinking, Danielle!! 

I would constantly beat myself up about it. My brain, my heart, my reasoning, and my faith all know this is not healthy thinking. They all know that beating myself up isn’t going to help. 

Why do I feel so negative, worthless, unloved, unlovable, unworthy, and in a fog?

Depressed.

The motions.

Wake up. Make breakfast. Frantically pack diaper bag for two. Rush Daniel through eating. If he wants to play before nap, we must leave…five minutes ago. Load kids in car. Run back inside and grab sunglasses that I left…where did I leave them? Don’t forget water. Jump in car. Did I lock the door? Run to check. Back in car. Kids ok? Ok. Snack for Daniel while we drive. Now….drive….sloooow. Pass…some…time. Why are there such bad drivers in LA? Arrive. Park. Ergo BabyGirl, throw on the backpack, get the toddler out without him smashing her head or kicking her. Success. 

I had to be out of the house. I needed fresh air. I couldn’t face the mess at home or even the possibility of making one. I had to put a fake smile on my face to just get through the day. I needed that vague interaction with complete strangers; it gave me some sort of falsely-perceived validation for what they inferred to be successfully and happily getting myself, a toddler, and a newborn dressed, fed, and to the park in one piece… all on day 4.

Insanity. Why? What is the purpose behind this behavior? What am I trying to prove?

This was my dark reality for a long time.  It took me four months to even realize this cycle that I was creating. Even after recognizing it, talking about it, trying to find solutions, I eventually just pushed it under the rug like survivors do and thought I was better. Not happy. Not enjoying life. But not depressed; therefore, I was fixed. Right?

I will make darkness light before them.

-Isaiah 42:16

“Joseph…Joseph!!! Call 9-1-1!”

That’s about all I could get out. Shivering,  hunched over in the fetal position, trying to hold myself up with my head against the bathroom wall, my tongue swelling, both hands clamped completely shut. 

After all my vitals came back normal and my body started to relax again, the firefighters were really confused as to what happened and decided it was best to take me to ER for further evaluation and monitoring.

Basically, all this drama was my body’s response to stress.  God had been trying to get my attention and was telling me to slow down for a long time. I didn’t listen. So He allowed my body to be completely immobilized. I had to stop; this insanity  has to stop.

I’m sure you’ve heard Urban Dictionary’s definition of insanity: 

Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result

Knowing all of that, it seems ridiculous to still get caught in this hamster wheel, but these next two definitions really hit home.

1. The state of being mentally ill.

2. Extreme foolishness or irrationality.

The night of the ER trip was actually the launching night of our church’s new small groups called Freeways.  Unfortunately, I was too sick to go, but I see how God used those  circumstances to stop me in my tracks and turn to Him.

You are my help and my deliverer.

-Psalm 40:17

The timing of Freeways was perfectly  ochestrated by God. Freeways was all about discovering our freedom in Christ. It was a step by step journey, arm-in-arm with our small group, learning what is my true identity in Christ and what from my past is preventing me from walking in the freedom and purpose God has for me?

I have taken a lot of steps backwards during this process, and I’ve reverted back to survival mode on countless occasions, but what I am discovering is that it is not about “deciding I’m better”, “changing my paradigm”, or “smiling” to make everything good again. This journey is about recognizing that life is constantly changing. With change comes struggles and challenges.  It is through these that God is stretching me and allowing me to grow and heal and be molded into exactly the woman He has created me, for the purpose for which He has designed me.

Why, even now almost 15 months later, I find myself going through the same motions is beyond me. I am pretty sure constant frustration, exhaustion, and yelling at MyMunchkin do not fit the category of successful parenting. 

This is a process. I am learning to be present and enjoy the process, no matter how painful or emotional. 

My life belongs to Jesus. He is the author and how dare I try to take the pen out of His hands and write my own story. I’ve tried that, and it left me stagnant and immobile.

I waited patiently for the Lord. He brought me up out of a horrible pit. He set my feet upon a rock. He has put a new song in my mouth. Praise to our God.

-Psalm 40:1-4

I’m ready to move again.

Life is too short to be tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged. I have a purpose and it’s time I get to it. 

I am so excited to share what God is unraveling before me! I have felt so alone for a long time. I have believed the lies that no one really cares about me or what I’m going through. I have believed the lies that what I am going through is so much more important or more difficult than others. I have believed the lies that what I am going through is not a big deal at all. I have believed that I am not a good Mom.  I have believed the lies that I have to earn people’s love and affection for me. 

I am choosing to believe the Truth and not the lies. I will be back soon to walk with you through how I am overcoming these doubts and insecurities.

Until next time, I pray today you are encouraged. I pray that you realize you are not alone. I pray that you will see God right where you are. I pray you hear His gentle words whispering, “I love you my child, you are not alone. I will never leave you or forsake you.” 

I pray that if you can relate to any of these feelings of isolation or depression, that you start to take baby steps to see the Light when you feel consumed by the darkness.

Would you like prayer for anything today? 

Do you have any experiences that might help me or others along the way?  

I would love to hear what God is teaching you on your journey! 

Top 10 Life Lessons

I was challenged by my uncle to list my Top 10 Life’s Lessons. I think I relearned all of these lessons simply by thinking about them all over again.

I saw this quote today not long after I received this challenge and its so fitting:

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What a great way to move forward and be present: reflect on how the past has made me who I am today.

1. Don’t gossip:
At a very young age I learned how hurtful words can be. It’s not worth trash talking people I love for the sake of keeping other “friends.” If they gossip to me, they’ll gossip about me.

Learn who you can trust:
My most valued and cherished friendships are girls who are honest, brutally honest sometimes, but who love me enough to be honest. There is no flattery! There is encouragement. We aren’t afraid to be down in the trenches with each other when needed, but we also help lift each other out of them.

2. Stop worrying about what others think of me:
I still have to remind myself of this one. Most of the time what I perceive other people to be “thinking” are just my own insecurities projected onto them. God gave me my own conviction, passion, and vision. The more I focus on others’ approval the less I focus on God’s purpose.

3. Don’t be afraid to try new things, especially when it comes to food:
I lived most of my childhood hating seafood. I had only had salmon BBQd, “well”-done, with a either lemon or a brown sugar glaze. Bbllleecckk! Now, hand over the sashimi or catch it fresh on the rivers of Idaho and sear it with a little salt and pepper medium-medium rare…now we’re talking!! I had never tried sushi until I was 21 because I was told eating raw food was dangerous.

Most everything tastes good if made the right way!!!!

4. Smile:
If someone looks grumpy or rude, smile, say “hello”. I’m only responsible for my own attitude and actions. More often than not, I discover how nice people really are. Some are just deep in thought, more reserved or not having a good day. When I smile, it makes their day and my day too!

5. I am my son’s (and soon to be born daughter’s) Mommy for a reason:
God gave him to me, not someone else. Not the over-opinionated old lady leaving the grocery store who thinks my 8 month old needs to be wearing sunglasses for his 30 second trip inside. Not to the family member or friend who sees things differently. We (my hubby &I) make decisions for our children based on prayer and the convictions God has given us.

It is important to learn from other people’s experiences and heed the wisdom, but discernment is also necessary. Just because there’s a blog that says this or that doesn’t mean our choice was wrong…just different than how that family decided to do things for their child(ren)…and that’s OK!

We need to support and love each other with our words and actions, not judge and tear each other down.

6. Forgive myself:
I make mistakes. I can and have been well-intentioned and still hurt people. Good people do bad things sometimes, and it’s not always on purpose. Being humble and apologizing is huge, but still not always received. Forgive myself, learn the lesson, move on and don’t repeat the same mistake. Living in the past just prevents me from being my best now and in the future.

7. Quinoa is a superfood: It is a complete protein:
It serves as a great alternative for pasta or rice. There are many delicious ways to cook it, both alone- hot and cold (mmm yummy greek salad!!)- or in a casserole or some other fun Pinterest recipe. Try it!
(This leads me to my next lesson)

8. Quinoa should not replace everything:
Meat is good! Sometimes you just need a good steak…or chicken…or ground beef or sausage. God created plants AND animals for us to enjoy. There are few things better than my Nana’s Rosemary Garlic Rack-of-lamb or All Day Meat Sauce!

9. Lighten up:
I’m still working on this one… One of God’s greatest gifts to me is my husband Joseph. He teaches me how to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously all the time. And now I have a son, with his Daddy’s sense of humor, who by 16 months had discovered the humor in hiding and jumping out to scare me.

I love to laugh and have a good sense of humor, but I also know I’m not that funny, so my most memorable moments are when I surround myself with people who help bring the silly out of me.

This reminds me of one of the funniest road trips: crank up the music in the car with a good friend, do some hand motions while you dance, and sing as loud as you can…and if you end up on the wrong freeway, remember the lesson: lighten up:)

10. Miracles do happen:
God heals! The stories in the Bible are important to teach us lessons in history, but Go is the same God now.

I, personally, within a 6 year period, was diagnosed with a chronic digestive disorder, suffered migraines, anxiety, had mysterious inflammation that “wasn’t quite rheumatoid arthritis”, a brain tumor, and was told it would probably be impossible to have children. All of which through prayer and God’s Grace are completely gone.

God wants to be present and in our lives, but He doesn’t force Himself. We must invite Him to participate. He wants to show us His power that will work in us, through us, and around us.

Until my munchkin’s next nap time: I challenge you and encourage you to Make your own list.

It’s really cool what happens in your brain and in your heart when you write stuff like this down. If you’re comfortable sharing some of them, I’d love for you to comment. I can always handle some more learning from others.

A Month of Meal Planning on a Budget: How Did I do it? What did it cost? Grocery List and more…

I started the month with $400 cash in my envelope and did a whole month of meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for $386.54.

We had also budgeted $100 toward dining out, but because of the meal planning, we ended up with plenty left in our envelope to do a spontaneous family day exploring some new places in L.A. over the holiday weekend.

20140831-000058.jpgGriffith Park Train Ride

20140831-000718.jpgGriffith Park Pony Rides

What I learned?
1. It’s possible to feed a family of 4 healthy food for under $400/month.
I know we’re not technically 4 yet, but I am eating more than normal and my husband and I usually have a “second” dinner after we’ve put the munchkin to bed. Not to mention, with these recipes, we always had an abundance of leftovers! We probably could have fed two more adults each meal and still had dinner for us the next day.

I utilized the leftovers for my lunches a lot of the time or even a small portion for a snack in the middle of the day.

Did I mention I eat more than normal right now; not only portions, but also throughout the day? I tell you this again to emphasize that this plan has plenty of food. Even if you have a family of five or six, this should suffice. Or, you can always freeze portions to make your job easier the next month, and, hey, why not save even more money!!

20140905-163040.jpg Griffith Observatory
2. Planning makes shopping quicker.
Having my list already prepared helped me stay on track. No more: aimlessly wandering the aisles to decide what I wanted. No more: “Oh, that looks good, I know it’s not the best for me, but I want it, so I’m gonna get it.” No more: guessing how much everything was going to cost hoping I brought enough cash. Best of all, no more: toddler going crazy in the cart because he’s tired of sitting and I’m only half way through the store.

I admit, I did not go to the store with a completed list my last week, and I swear I will never do that again. It was a great reminder of why I set this goal to begin with!

20140905-163212.jpgHollywood Sign

3. Be Flexible:
Some things need to change. Days don’t always go as planned, produce isn’t always ripe when you want it, life happens.

I changed up the order of some of my meals during the week. Sometimes a particular meal sounded better to my pregnant pallet tonight instead of at the end of the week. If my husband was going to eat at home one night, but home late the next I tried to make something fresh the nights he was home and had leftovers the following night.

This was only possible because all of the ingredients to all of the week’s meals already in the house.

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4. Smile & Have Fun:
Take the pressure off of yourself. It’s just dinner. If it doesn’t turn out how you expected, oh well! Make adjustments next time or toss that recipe into the never-again category.

Part of enjoying dinner is enjoying the process making it. I know, I know sometimes there are just days you’re in a hurry and food is simply a way of keeping you stable.

Lets not forget those experiences where you sit down and start salivating before your first bite. Those times you walk into a home or restaurant and the smell overwhelms you with anticipation of what you’re about to endeavor.

Do I want those experiences in my home too? Yes, of course!! They can’t happen all the time, but just thinking about walking into my own home with a roast or chicken or homemade lentil soup in the crockpot…ready to eat makes the cooking process so much fun…and relaxing!!! Add a little bit of this and a little bit of that…taste along the way…add some more of this.

20140905-163538.jpgMy Hubby being a goober. He keeps me smiling!

    Before we cook, we Meal Plan!

Let’s begin with the Costco necessities: (Keep in mind, the * items are not for meal plan dinners, they are staple items for our household. Double check them with yours and make adjustments based on your needs.)
*30 ct Fig Bars. $8.99
*Bisquick $5.49
Tortellini $9.99
Mild Cheddar Cheese $5.69
Romano Cheese $13.50
Boneless/Skinless Chick $26.06
Ground Turkey $18.33
*Bacon $15.99
*Guerrero Flour Tortillas $3.59
Guerrero Corn Tortillas $3.19
*2 Natural Peanut Butter $7.89
*Coffee Beans $10.39
Total: $113.95

Week 1a Menu:
1. Quinoa Bake
2. Leftovers
3. Lasagna Rolls
These carried over from the previous month’s shopping, an because I didn’t meal plan I don’t have grocery prices, but I still posted the recipes, so here’s what you need.
Grocery List:
2 cups uncooked Quinoa (4 cups cooked)
2 cups uncooked pinto beans (use 4 cups cooked or canned)
1 Small can mild Green Chilis
2 10 oz cans Enchilada sauce
1 1lbs block Jack cheese
1 Avocado
1 bundle Cilantro
1 box lasagna noodles
1 lbs Ground turkey
1 lbs Romano cheese
8 oz Mozzarella cheese
Organic Baby Spinach
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
8-10 white Cap mushrooms
1 yellow onion
1 garlic bulb
Bottle of wine (if you don’t already have some you’re planning on opening this week)
Week 1b:
4. Feta Burgers and Home-fries
5. Loaded Potato Soup in bread bowls
6. Leftovers
7. Chicken and Avocado Pasta Salad
8. Leftovers
9. Stromboli
10. Family Party
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Russet potato $1.50
1 cucumber $0.50
1 curly parsley $0.50
1 red onion $0.77
2 Yellow onion $0.76
1 Green Onion (bundle) $0.59
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
Organic Baby Arugula $3.49
Nonfat Greek Yogurt $2.50
Hamburger Buns $2.50
Sliced Black Olives $2.38
Organic Pizza Sauce $1.79
Trader Joe’s
4 1 oz Pizza dough $4.76
1 6oz Ricotta Cheese $2.99
Pavilions/Vons/Safeway
3 French Bread Bowls $5.97
Farfalle Pasta $0.89

    Other Misc Groceries:

3 Apples $0.63
3 Pears $1.00
1 bundle Bananas $2.88
4 Yellow Peaches $1.10
1/2 Gallon Raw Milk $8.99
1/2 Gallon 2% Milk $2.19
1 lbs Steel Cut Oats $1.09
2 Loaves Wheat Bread $3.00
Week 1b Grocery Total: $61.50

Week 2:
11. Chicken w/ Garlic Mashed Cauliflower, and veggies
12. Tortellini Skillet Lasagna
13. Leftovers
14. Lemon Herb Chicken & Rice
15. Turn 14 into pita sandwiches
16. Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Casserole
17. Leftovers
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Head Cauliflower $1.72
1 Cucumber $0.50
1 Bulb Garlic $0.20
1/2 lbs Green Beans $1.15
2 Lemons $1.00
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
2 Yellow Onions $0.34
Green Enchilada Sauce $5.96
32 oz Canned diced Tomatoes $1.69
Organic Whipping Cream $3.69
1/2 lbs white cheddar (or jack) $3.11
1 lbs bulk Italian sausage $3.59
Pita bread $2.29

    Other Misc Groceries:

1 12 oz Blueberries $1.50
3 lbs Clementines $4.99
3 Apples $1.06
1 Bundle Organic Bananas $1.91
2 lb Organic Yogurt $2.99
24 oz Toasted Wheat Cereal $2.50
1.45 lbs Granola $5.79
1.37 lbs Steel Cut Oats $1.36
1.71 lbs Flour $1.69
6 oz Organic Shells & Cheese $2.49
Week 2 Total: 55.01

Week 3:
18. Crockpot Tortellini Soup
19. Leftovers
20. Breaded chicken & veggies
21. Crockpot Chuck roast w/ roasted potatoes & veggies
22. Turn 20 into chicken Parmesan & penne
23 & 24. I’m gone so the boys get leftovers for the weekend
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 lbs Brussels Sprouts $1.65
1 bundle Celery $0.50
1 bulb Garlic $0.20
1.5 lbs Red Potatoes $1.18
0.5 lbs Roma Tomatoes $0.60
2 Yellow Onions $0.68
1 lbs Penne Pasta $1.50
32 oz Crushed tomatoes $1.69
1.5 lbs Boneless Chuck Roast $10.43
3 links Italian Chicken Sausage $4.67
1 loaf Rustic Sourdough Bread $2.99

    Other Misc Groceries:

1 Bundle Bananas $1.99
8 oz Strawberries $2.50
24 oz Mom’s Best Raisin Bran $2.50
6 oz Organic Mac & Cheese $1.69
6 oz Organic Shells & Cheese $2.49
8 oz Organic Granola Bars $2.50
12 oz Veggie Sticks $1.99
12 oz Tortilla Chips $1.99
2 lbs Greek Yogurt $2.99
1/2 Gallon Raw Milk $8.99
1/2 Gallon 2% Milk $2.19
8 oz Fresh Salsa $3.99
1 lbs Granola 2.42
6 oz Smoked Kielbasa Sausage $4.67
1 loaf Wheat Bread $1.50
18 ct eggs $2.29
1 lbs Cheddar Cheese $5.79
Week 3 Total: $81.68

Week 4:
25. Crockpot chili in bread-bowls
26. Leftovers w/ cornbread
27. Grilled Chicken, Quinoa, & Spinach Salad
28. Chicken soft tacos, rice and beans TexMex Power Greens Salad (courtesy of my hubby’s magic)
29. Leftovers
30. Pizza (I’ve gotta see what veggies look good before I decide what kind) Spontaneous Family Night Out
31. Pasta and Meatballs
Grocery List:

    Dinners:

Sprouts Farmers Market
1 Bundle Cilantro $0.59
1 Cluster Vine Tomatoes $2.78
3 Hass Avocado $2.64
1 Jalapeño $0.08
Organic Baby Spinach $3.49
1 Yellow Onions $0.33
1 bag Sweet Mini Peppers $2.50
1 lbs Black Beans $1.49
3 15 oz Diced Crushed Tomatoes $2.97
1/2 lbs Jack Cheese $3.19
1/4 lbs Dried Cranberries $4.49
Chicken Breast tenders $5.26

    Other Misc. Groceries

1 lbs Pluots $2.08
2.5 lbs Red Seedless Grapes $3.77
1 Bundle Bananas $2.17
12 oz Organic Raisin Bran $2.50
Organic Tortilla chips $1.50
2 lbs yogurt $3.79
1/2 Gallon Organic Raw Milk $8.99
1 loaf Wheat Bread $1.50
BBQ Chicken Flatbread Pizza $4.49
Spinach Goat Cheese Flatbread $4.49
Pavilions/Vons/Safeway
12 oz Low Sodium Chicken Broth $0.88
18 ct eggs $3.99
1.5 lbs Ground Beef $7.41
Week 4 Total: $74.70

Monthly Total: 386.54*
*I did not include restocking of spices/seasonings/salt/etc. on my lists. See my lists of Pantry Basics to see what you’ll need for this month and any other future recipes I post.

I hope this helps you attack your goals and gives you a resource for good prices, tips, and recipes.

Until My Munchkin’s next nap: Here’s a bonus recipe to start your next month. The Best Lentil Soup I’ve made!!
4 cups Chicken Stock
16 oz Diced Tomatoes
2 Carrots (peeled & diced)
1/2 yellow onion (diced)
1/2 clove shallot (minced)
3 Celery stalks (sliced)
1 clove garlic (minced)
1 tbs kosher salt
1 teas ground black pepper
1 tbs cumin
3 cups dried green lentils
-put everything in crockpot on low for 8-10 hours
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 bundle green chard (chopped)
-add to crockpot 20 minutes before serving
– top with freshly grated Romano Ceese

The Final Stretch: Monthly Meal Planning Week 4 Completed

A whole month of meal planning, and actually cooking and documenting these meals is completed!

It feels good to finish goals.

Part of my goal was to provide you with some grocery lists so you too can successfully Meal Plan on a Budget. I am finishing putting that information together and will have it soon, but I wanted to make sure I got my recipes to you as I promised.

Here is Week 4:

Crockpot Turkey Chili

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Ingredients and Instructions:
1. 1 yellow onion
2. 8 small sweet bell peppers
3. 1″ jalapeño pepper (no seeds)
4. Heavy pinch of Kosher salt
-sauté 1-3 in olive oil until soft
-add 4
5. 2 cloves garlic
-add to pan for 2 minutes, stir occasionally so it doesn’t burn
-pour ingredients into Crockpot
carefully give pan a quick wipe with a paper towel
6. 2 lbs ground turkey
-add to hot pan
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 1 tbs onion powder
9. 2 tbs cumin
10. 1 teas kosher salt
11. 1 tbs paprika
12. 1 teas chili powder
13. 1 teas fresh ground black pepper
-add to meat and cook until browned and cooked through
-add to crockpot
14. 4-6 oz can of tomato paste
-scoop into hot pan and stir for a few minutes until color changes from bright red to more of a brick red
15. 1/4 c water
-add to pan and stir
-pour into crockpot
16. 2 16 oz cans crushed tomatoes
-add to crockpot
17. 3 cups cooked beans (you can use canned beans too. I cook mine. But either way I like pinto and black beans; you can use white beans, kidney beans, etc. if you prefer)
18. 1-2 c water
19. 1 tbls kosher salt
-add to crockpot and stir, cover, cook for 6 hours
-taste before serving, add a little more salt if necessary
20. Cheddar cheese (grated)
21. 1 avocado (cubed)
-sprinkle cheese and top with avocado
The first day we ate the chili with organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips and day 2 I made homemade cornbread from this “High Heels and Grills” recipe

This tasted good the first day, but was even better the second day after all the flavors really came together.

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Grilled Chicken, Quinoa, Spinach Salad, and Caprese

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Chicken Marinade:
1. 1/2 cup olive oil
2. 1 tbs kosher salt
3. 1 teas fresh ground pepper
4. 3 garlic cloves (peeled & smashed)
5. 1/2 lime
6. Handful fresh cilantro
– combine ingredients and soak chicken for 3-5 hours, turn chicken over part way through time
Grillin’ time:
-After grill is hot, cook each side 5-7 minutes then close lid until cooked through
Quinoa:
-Follow ratios on package, substitute chicken/vegetable broth for water.
Spinach Salad:
1. 3 c Baby Spinach
2. 1/4 c dried cranberries
3. 1 avocado
4. 1/2 cucumber (peeled and chopped)
Dressing:
1. 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
2. 1/2 olive oil
3. 1 teas oregano
4. Pinch of kosher salt
Caprese:
1. 2 tomatoes (diced)
2. 6 oz fresh mozzarella (cubed)
3. 4-5 basil leaves (chopped)
4. 1-2 teas Balsamic vinegar
5. 2-3 teas olive oil
6. Kosher Salt
-put 1-3 in bowl
-drizzle 4 & 5 over
-sprinkle a small pinch of salt

Leftovers turned into magic by my husband aka TexMex Power Greens Salad:

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So my husband has the ability to take random ingredients and make magic! This gift is probably due to the mystery basket challenges he did while in culinary school.

His instructors would put 5-7 items in a basket and he had to create something fabulous in a very short amount of time.

Along with his amazing cooking skills, comes the fact that he doesn’t really measure; everything is by eye and taste. Here are the ingredients for the salad, and I’ll let you decide how much of each you want to include.
Ingredients:
-Power Greens
-tomato (cubed)
-sweet baby bell peppers (diced)
-avocado (sliced)
-leftover chicken (cut into small cubes)
-corn tortillas (cut in small strips and fried; or you can just buy them pre-made to make it easier)
-mix everything in large bowl
-serve
Dressing:
1. 1/4 c BBQ
2. 2tbs each vinegar
3. Approx 2 tbs honey
-drizzle over salad
Again, he doesn’t measure, so these are estimates and they vary depending on your taste buds.

We’ve made several dressings this month, and I’m fully confident in your ability to execute a masterpiece as well. Let me know what you try and if there’s anything good I can add to my recipe catelog.

Penne w/ Meatballs

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Meatballs:
1. 1.5 lbs ground beef
2. 1 egg
3. 3 slices “day-old” sourdough bread (put in food processor until breadcrumbs)
4. 2 tbs dried basil
5. 1 tbs dried oregano
6. 1 tbs onion powder
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
9. 2 teas kosher salt
10. 2 tbs grated Romano cheese
-add all of ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with hands
-form into balls
11. Olive oil (enough to coat fry pan)
-get oil hot
-brown all sides of meat balls
-transfer to baking sheet and put in 375 degree oven 10 minutes (until cooked through)
Sauce:
1. 3-4 tbs red wine
-after meatballs are transferred, pour out excess oil, deglaze pan 1-2 minutes
2. 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
-add to pan
3. 1 tbs dried basil
4. 1/2 teas kosher salt
5. Small Pinch of thyme
-add to sauce and stir
-simmer 3-5 minutes
This is a very quick way to make sauce. The longer the sauce has to simmer and reduce the more flavor comes out, but if you’re crunched for time, this is a great alternative!

Penne:
1. 1 lbs penne pasta
-follow directions on package
2. 1 tbls olive oil
3. Pasta water reserved
-strain
-add 2&3

After everything is cooked and ready to serve, top with freshly grated Romano cheese.

Power Greens Salad w/ smoked Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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1. Power greens
2. 1 vine ripened tomato (cubed)
3. Smoked mozzarella (cubed)
-mix in small bowl
4. 2 teas olive oil
5. 1 teas red wine vinegar
6. Pinch kosher salt
7. 1/2 teas oregano
8. Fresh ground pepper
-combine 4-8 separately and adjust quantities to taste
-drizzle over salad

Until my munchkin’s next nap time: I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s meal planning challenge! Let me know your thoughts and experiences.

Stay tuned for the completed monthly menu, shopping lists, and tips I learned along the way.

Meal Planning Week Three: Easy Year-around Recipes- Perfect for a Hectic Week

This week felt hectic! It helped so much to have everything planned ahead of time!

We had a few nights of left overs and I was gone for the weekend, so here are the three meals I cooked that stretched through the week.

Rustic Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup

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Recipe from Taste of Home

Ok seriously!!! One of the best soups I’ve made!!!

I adjusted quantities and made some additions to the original recipe as well, so here are my Ingredients:
1. 1 whole onion (diced)
2. 2 whole carrots (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3. 3 garlic cloves (finely minced)
4. 3 Chicken Italian sausages (remove from casing)
5. 1/2 teas dried basil
6. 1/2 teas dried oregano
7. 1 tbs garlic powder
8. 1 tbs onion powder
9. 5 c Water
10. 3-4 oz baby spinach
11. 1/2 teas red wine vinegar
12. 1tbs kosher salt
13. 8 oz diced tomatoes
14. 2 stalks celery (1/4 inch slices)
15. Cheese tortellini
-sauté onion until soft, add garlic and a pinch of salt and sauté another 2-3 minutes, pour into crockpot
– in same pan add a little more olive oil and cook sausage
– add everything to crockpot except spinach, tortellini, and red wine vinegar
-cook on high 4-6 hours
-10 minutes before serving stir in spinach, tortellini, and vinegar
-serve with rustic sourdough bread (Sprouts Farmer’s Market has a really yummy one in their bakery)

Italian Breaded Chicken w/ Penne & Green Beans

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This is a family favorite!!! At most of my family events, unless a major holiday, you will find these included in the feast. One of my all-time favorite meals, and best of all it’s pretty easy to make.

I adjusted quantities for an average family of four, because let’s be honest, every Italian family plans food for at least 15, even if we’re only feeding four… “You never know who might walk in. You can always have left overs!”

Ingredients:
1. 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts w/ tenders (breasts sliced on bias and then into 1″ strips, tenders cut in half)
2. 1c flour
3. 3 eggs (whisked)
4. Approx. 1tbs Kosher salt (divided)
5. 2c Breadcrumbs (I make my own, but to simplify things, any Italian breadcrumbs will suffice.) Below is my way though, which are better, and just take a few extra minutes

-Rinse and dry chicken off completely with paper towels!! This is crucial to getting the breading to stick and not fall off when your fry them up!!
-sprinkle salt on all sides of chicken
-Get all of your ingredients set up in separate containers, in this order:
1.) chicken 2.) flour 3.) eggs
4.) Breadcrumbs 5.) clean platter for assembled chicken

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-one strip at a time, dip into each container in order. Make sure you shake off extra flour and extra egg so it doesn’t clump.

Cooking Time:

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-heat olive oil at medium high heat (make sure olive oil goes 1/4″ up sides of pan. Quantity of oil differs depending on the size of the pan you’re using)
-When oil is hot gently lay strips, away from you, into oil with tongs (be careful not to splash oil! That hurts!!)
-get chicken a nice golden brown color and flip to other side
If you’re concerned about wasting oil, here is a great resource to show you how to properly clean, save, store, and reuse the oil.

penne pasta & marinara sauce
1. 1 lbs Penne pasta
2.1/4 teas Dried basil
3.1/4 teas Kosher salt
4. Pinch of thyme
5. 1 clove minced garlic
6. 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
7. Romano Cheese
-cook pasta according to package (reserve 2 tbs pasta water after cooking)
-in small sauté pan add garlic to 1 teas hot olive oil -2 minutes
-pour 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes
-add 2-4 and stir
-pour over strained pasta
-add pasta water reserve
-stir together and top with freshly grated Romano cheese

Green beans:
1. 1 lbs green beans
2. 1 tbs olive oil
3. heavy pinch of kosher salt
4. ground pepper mill
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-Drizzle olive oil over cleaned and trimmed green beans on baking sheet.
-evenly sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
-put in oven for 10 minutes (check throughout to rotate beans as needed)
(Sorry these didn’t make it in the photo! I was very hungry and very tired after a busy day running around with my munchkin and the green beans apparently got left out)

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Crockpot Chuck Roast & Brussels Sprouts

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Ingredients:
1. 2 lbs Chuck Roast
2. 1 tbs kosher salt
3. 1 c flour
-heat olive oil in fry pan
-mix 2&3 in bowl
-coat all sides of meat
-sear meat 5-7 minutes (until browned) on all sides
4. 1 whole yellow onion (chopped)
5. 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
6. 3 carrots (peeled and cut in 1″)
7. 4 stalks of celery (cut in 1/4″)
8. 8-10 red potatoes (cut in 1/2″ cubes)
9. 1 tbs salt
10. 1 teas dried thyme
11. 1 teas fresh ground pepper
12. 1 tbs garlic powder
13. 1 tbs onion powder
-add 4-13 to Crockpot
-place meat in center
14. 4 c water
-pour into Crockpot (liquid should cone 1/2 way up meat, add or reduce water quantity if necessary)

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Low-sodium beef stock is a great alternative for water, just don’t use bouillon! That’s way too salty and has a bunch of unhealthy junk in it.
-cover on high for 6 hours (or until it breaks apart with a fork)

Brussels Sprouts:
-preheat oven to 425 degrees
-cut Brussels sprouts in quarters and put in large bowl
-drizzle olive oil
-heavy pinch of kosher salt
-1/4 teas fresh ground pepper
-mix everything together until fully coated
-pour onto baking sheet
-bake 5-7 minutes
-flip
-return to oven another 5-7 minutes
-plate it up

This was dinner for my boys while I worked and was gone for the weekend. I unfortunately didn’t end up with a final picture of it plated. I did taste it though, and it was really good.

This week’s meals are great for either multiple days or 6-8 people.

They are also good recipes to hang onto all year around. It’s been in the high 80s and 90s and these hit the spot, but on a cool fall evening or in the chill of the winter these would be fabulous options!

Maybe they tasted so good regardless of the heat because I’m ready to transition out of summer already!! You try them and let me know what you think.

Are they a hit in your home like they were in mine?

Until my munchkin’s next nap:
Mangia, Mangia!!