January 30, 2015

Dressed Up Black Beans and Rice

Black beans and rice is an incredibly easy staple meal. It's healthy and fairly cheap to boot, making it great for an end-of-month recipe when the grocery budget is almost maxed out. My way of making it adds a bit more flavor and makes it a one-pot meal, veggies included. The recipe leaves you enough for leftovers for lunches or dinners for a few days. Buying a big bag of black beans, instead of canned gives the meal a better texture and saves you some cash. It's also healthier as canned beans can have added salt. The same goes for bag rice vs. instant.

Dressed Up Black Beans and Rice
  • 1 lb. black beans, from bag not can
  • 1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 lb. frozen green pepper and onion mix
  • 8 servings long grain enriched white rice
Soak the black beans in a pot over night then cook beans per instructions on bag.
Rinse then prepare rice per instructions on bag.
Brown sausage in a skillet.  
Heat green peppers and onions in microwave, 5 minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
Serve and enjoy!

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January 28, 2015

M's Freezer-Only Challenge

The freezer, complete with ominous lighting.
Last night when I went down to pull out meat from our upright freezer for the next few days' dinners, I got a surprise. Frozen meat and fruit came flying from the selves, attacking me as I tried to wrestle a small package from the freezer's icy grip. The meat I'd found on sale the past few weeks had led the freezer with organized stacks to become one where it was a danger to remove anything. I'd also noticed our credit card bill (unrelated to the meat buying) was higher than the budget allows. The freezer is an organizational and budget pitfall for many of us.

Suddenly, a light bulb (along with the alarm letting me know the freezer had been open too long) went on. I could solve two problems at once-- save money and clear out the freezer some. It would also mean a fun challenge to set for myself.

Thus, the Freezer-Only Challenge was born. What is this challenge you ask? Why, to only cook with meat pulled from the freezers (we have two) the next month. No buying more to freeze or use fresh. My month started January 23, the day of my last shopping trip. I'm not including fruit and other frozen items in this no-buy challenge as we don't have much of those.

Over these next weeks, I'll resist the temptation of grabbing meat at the grocery store that's a great price. That's hard for me as with soaring meat prices, sales are so important to keep the family fed without going broke. I'll just have to remind myself that really, there's no more room. That and I'll just be under attack again if I keep filling the freezer. Trust me, a bag of frozen chicken falling on your head as beef falls on your foot isn't fun at all. My goal is to end the month with a more manageable freezer that I can organize, and keep organized going forward, and a lower credit card bill.

I invite you to join me on this freezer-clearing, money-saving challenge. I'll be posting a few updates on how it's going and would love to hear about your experience (or why you don't want to take the challenge). Let me know by leaving a comment here or posting on our Facebook page.

Read the wrap up for this challenge.

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January 26, 2015

Surviving Life with a Newborn and Toddler, Part 2

When you're a mom raising two kids, you suddenly become outnumbered when you're alone with them. No more is it a one-on-one face off, if you slip up you've got two screaming, angry, crying, kids to point it out. Here are some tips to help see you through.

Don't miss parts 1, 3, and 4 of this series.

1. Sneak in cleaning and housework. One of the two kids is going to need you most of the time. Sneaking in daily chores helps keep the house liveable. Folding clothes during toddler nap time while singing to the baby, stuffing a few dishes in the dishwasher while making breakfast or a bottle, putting away toys just before bedtime each night, picking up toys in the bedrooms each time you go in and throwing laundry in the washer or dryer while the kids are distracted for a moment are all good tricks. Big sister feels special when she's helping Mommy vacuum--even though she's really just following around yanking on the cord while the baby naps. It takes extra patience and a few, "please leave the cord alone" reminders. The floor ends up free of cat fur, Kix, crayon wrapers, crumbs and that odd stuff you can't identify, though. At least for a few minutes. A few hours if you squint and ignore the pretzel crumbs she dropped in the corner during snack time after you asked her to please eat at the table and she refused.

2. Make peace with what you can't do. Despite sneaking in housework, some days things just aren't going to get done. The wonderful dinner that was planned out just might not work as the baby is crying and toddler is pitching a fit because she must have fruit snacks, now, though she's already had too many today. Keeping the house presentable --enough-- and keeping the kids fed and safe is what's most important. Mommy may need to skip her shower one day to make it happen. A kid bath time may even have to be skipped. As long as no flies are hanging around Mommy, the kids don't stink and their clothes are clean (mommy's may not be, what with the puke and poo hazards of the job) it's good enough. At least until tomorrow, when you really must shower because you do attract flies and the kids are a bit ripe, or pooped/puked themselves too much.

3. Juggle, balance and teeter. 
 There are days when things don't go smoothly. At all. The baby pooped on Mommy. The toddler covered her hair with food and is pitching a fit if you so much as breathe in the same room. The baby must be held. Constantly. Putting him down equals horrible, gut wrenching, oh-my-God-is-someone-ripping-his-head-off screams. The toddler wants another drink while the baby needs to eat again. Never mind both just had some two minutes ago. Meanwhile, Mommy has to pee as holding it for the past half hour means the clock on holding it is about up and another mess is imminent. Phone calls have to be made to solve problems with insurance/cars/take your pick. On these days, Mommy has to just do her best. Employing certain tactic while others get  pitched out the window faster than the toddler can run down the hall naked while you're begging her to please get in the tub, she is poop covered.

4. Forgive. Yourself, your kids, your husband, that idiot who cut in front of you and your screaming kids at the grocery store. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. Even Super Mom. Learn from the past and strive to make the future better. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Forgive and forget. (insert additional cliché inspirational "moving on and being ok with things" phrases here.) If you don't, you'll never be able to live long and prosper and the force won't be with you. (See what I did there?)

5. Realization. Mommy needs to realize all this won't last. This one is a double edged sword. Life is hard right now. Mommy sometimes wants to cry and scream along with the wee ones. She can probably throw that dinner farther across the room than the toddler and some days has to combat that desire to try. Mommy would also like to be able to shower without screaming kids and pee without an audience that's trying to open and empty all the cabinets while mom's stuck on the toilet, unable to stop the wreckage. Yet at the same time, these baby and toddler days go by so fast never to be lived again. Wanting to be held and needing Mommy's help with diapers, eating and playtime give way to wanting the car keys and then with a phone call every now and then, possibly from the other side of the country. Stories and cuddles turn into wanting space and locking doors. Take it one day at a time and remember that the most important thing is building memories to hold onto and everyone feeling loved, cared for and wanted. Because, after all, love is what started this and love is what keeps you going no matter how hard or irritating things get.

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January 25, 2015

What's for Dinner?

Mmm mmm mmm look what's for dinner! You may have noticed that I'm sticking to simple, filling, easy-to-make recipes. Doing that is much easier with a newborn right now. The fancier dinners, including things I've never made before, are coming once life settles down more.

Bar-b-cue chicken thighs and baked potatoes
Baked tilapia with broccoli and rice

Steaks with corn and mashed potatoes

Waffles with mixed fruit salad

Green salad with shredded chicken on top


Jamaican Allspice pork chops with peas, carrots and baked potatoes

January 23, 2015

Surviving Life with a Newborn and Toddler, Part 1

There's a learning curve for everything we do in life. Having two kids, one a toddler and one a newborn, one a boy and one a girl, is no exception. Here's what I've learned so far about surviving life with a newborn and toddler. I kid you not, at times it really is about survival.

Check out parts two, three, and four.

1. Anyone who says a boy's diapers are easier to change has never done a girl's.  That, or they're just plain lying leading you astray. In theory, boys should be easier. They're not. They're really, really not. Mommy has to master the pee-pee arc dodge, learn to wipe pee off walls and become a ninja with how fast you have to wipe and slap on a new diaper. Boys have more nooks and crannies than an English muffin (or a girl) at least as babies. Mommy has to clean them all and move bits around to get all the sticky icky poo off. All before the pee-pee arc dodge and wall wiping come into play--which isn't going to always be successful, hence having to learn them. Girls dribble if Mommy doesn't get a diaper on fast enough. There's no spray. There's nothing like seeing your daughter's wide eyes as she watches you change her brother's diaper and an arc of pee shoots up high into the air. She stands pointing at the pee, amazed at how quickly you deflected it with a diaper to hit the wall, rather than her.

2. Someone is going to end up unhappy. With two kids who are still at the age where they needs lots of help, one tons of help, Mommy has to make a choice on who to help first. Neither will comprehend taking turns. He or she wants you to help them, now. If you don't, screaming, crying and possibly destruction will ensue. The problem is, it's impossible to take care of both at the exact same time. Someone is going to have to go first and that other someone is going to not like it. Most of the time, it'll be the baby who comes first which then causes the toddler to feel left out. It's heartbreaking to have to make the choice and even more heartbreaking to hear a child cry when he or she just needs mommy's help. Sometimes, it'll be Mommy that needs something immediately (like going pee before there's also a mess on the floor to clean up). That has the potential for leaving two kids unhappy.

3. One-on-one time is a must. Each kid needs to feel special and like the center of Mommy's universe they are. It's Mommy's job to make that happen by juggling schedules and activities to spend special time with each. The baby automatically gets cuddles, kisses and love as he is fed often and needs to be held much of the time. There still needs to be time where that happens without the distraction of watching a toddler at the same time. Conversely, the toddler has had Mommy all to herself for awhile now. She doesn't understand having to share Mommy. She wants all the love. Taking the time to cuddle, hug and do something fun with her without baby brother around is special for her, and for Mommy. Enjoy the special time you have with each.

4. Be flexible. Daily life, and life in general, doesn't often go how we want. For example: Bed times aren't always going to happen at the set bed time. In fact, having a range of when bedtime makes things much calmer for all involved. That way, Mommy isn't freaking out when bedtime is a half hour later because dinner had to be cleaned up off the floor and the toddler didn't want to put on jammies and brush her teeth. She much preferred to dump out more toys while being chased around and told it's bed time. Mommy feels accomplished because she met the bedtime goal. Flexibility in nap time is also helpful. If toddler and baby MUST NAP AT X TIME, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER!! it's going to be hard to fit in things like errands, events, doctor appointments and, well, life. If the kids are used to a more variable naptime, say, somewhere between 1-3 p.m., and are used to missing it every now and then, it won't be as big of a disaster when nap time doesn't happen as planned. This really goes for anything--rigid schedules will get bent. Remember science class? That hard, inflexible pencil will snap. The nice, pliable paper can be folded into something else just as beautiful, if not what you'd planned for it to be.

5. Foster sibling love. Having big sister help change diapers (read: be in the room, hand over the diaper or wipes) makes her not only feel special and included but more connected to her baby brother. Letting her put a blanket on the baby when he's in his swing or on his play mat achieves the same goal. Keeping her involved and encouraging giving baby kisses and hugs builds a bond and connection that lasts a lifetime. It's beyond priceless to see the look of total adoration big sister gives the baby and him giving her the same one in return.

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January 21, 2015

Looking Ahead to 2015

A new year means new plans. New goals. New hopes. New dreams. So much new comes when the clock ticks over to midnight January 1. For me, I have a number of these for the blog, my family and myself this year.

M2 is finally old enough to start  doing more crafts. I've got a number of ideas in my head and on Pinterest I'm excited to do with her this year. Even before she was born, I was thinking of all the fun things I could do with her.

Usually, I do baking and cooking for the holidays. None of that happened last year with pregnancy and a new baby. I just wasn't up for it. My KitchenAid mixer and other fun baking gadgets, many that I've never gotten a chance to use, are torturing me with their presence, whispering, "use me! use me!" All the recipes I stock piled, from tried and true to new-and-nifty looking are on the roster for creation and sharing. Some of the baking I'll be having M2 help with. She's already showing an interest in baking.
A previous creation.
I had planned a veggie garden last spring then realized with morning sickness and pregnancy it wasn't the right time. Those plans are back. Having two kids, including a newborn, means the garden will be scaled down. Maintaining a huge one, without having experience, just doesn't seem wise. It'll go in this spring as my first attempt at putting in a garden and at growing veggies.

My budget is getting revamped after tax time to establish where we stand and figure in a fourth family member. Another year of tweaking the budget as we go is on the horizon since we've never had two kids before. Last year it changed over the first few months as we'd never had a house of our own before.

Having two kids is the biggest endeavour of the year. Learning how to raise a boy (I'm used to girls), keeping up with two kids, reaching the toddler stage, making new mom friends, finding friends for the kids, helping M2 with her speech and overall learning, keeping her active and busy, along with joining a local church to give us better roots and meet people are all current and upcoming challenges.

I'm not great at meeting new people as I'm quite shy at first and don't have the best confidence in doing it so joining a church, and joining a new mom-and-baby playgroup are more difficult for me than you'd expect. Even going to library time to meet other moms is hard--I'm not the type who can just walk up to someone and easily start a conversation. Though, oddly, in the professional world I have no problem with it. Go figure. These things are important for finding the kids friends and making my own though, so I'll be doing it.

Weight loss is a big focus of the year. I have 25 pounds of baby weight to lose (I lost about 45 so far). Before getting pregnant, I was working on losing a substational amount. Once the baby weight is off, I'm going to continue on that journey. I'm going to be looking at is as giving up extra weight as that sounds more positive and happy than having a loss.

Focusing on the positive and being more upbeat are both things on which I'm working. I'm a worrier so I tend to see all that can go wrong which can get in the way of things. So does being a perfectionist. I need to focus more on the good, rather than the things that aren't prefect. Because, let's face it, nothing in life is perfect.

The kids' clothes are organized already.
Organization is something I work on bit by bit each year. We've lived in this house for almost two years so it's overhaul time. In preparation for baby B, we cleaned out lots of stuff from the basement. Now, it needs to be organized. I've got a few organization projects on the horizon. The extra food storage already got a good clean out last week. Being able to know what we've got, what we need and that it's all easily at hand is nice. Side note: had I done it sooner, I would have known we had a solid shelf of just pasta. Should the zombie apocalypse come, we'll be eating pasta and canned veggies. Those two things alone will allow us to stay fed for quite some time.

Being a better mom is an important goal for me. I don't think I'm a bad mom, there are just things I'd like to do and be better at. For example, the finding the kids  more friends that I mentioned earlier. Family day trips are something we don't do often enough. I plan to change that. I'd also like to see the ones we do have more often. This is also part of improving myself as a person. Many little things make up these two goals.
A previous zoo trip.
Daily life is a bit rocky right now. Our schedules are still being fleshed out. I had the cooking, cleaning, child care, errands and playtime balanced pretty well previously. Getting back to that will help me be less stressed and be able to fit in some of the other plans I've mentioned. The daily activities are what we spend most of our time doing. It takes up most of our lives so I want it to be enjoyable, stress free and easy rather than hectic, disjointed and craycray. Well, at least as much as possible. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while we're busy making plans." I want to enjoy that life and those plans.

All of this will find its way onto the blog throughout the year. My goal here is to post more, bring in more traffic and grow as we get into our second year in a few months. The first year has gone great, better than expected in fact. It's important to me to keep that momentum going. You can expect more of the things we usually talk about with new topics thrown in to liven things up. K and I appreciate all our readers and are so happy you join us for our stay-at-home mommy adventures.

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January 19, 2015

What's for Dinner?

Here are dinner ideas for your menu, based on what we're eating this week.

 Leftover shredded whole roast chicken on mixed greens salad


Baked tilapia with brown rice and mixed veggies

Pork chops smother in apple sauce with baked potato and green breans

Spaghetti with side salad

Turkey and three bean chili with French bread

Orange chicken with fried rice

January 12, 2015

Introducing Baby2

Precious baby boy
After months of waiting, Baby2 arrived the end of November. I was induced for medical reasons so didn't have to worry about making the two hour drive to the hospital while in labor. I had really been worried about that.

Labor and delivery went smoother than with M2, lasting 21 hours instead of 41.5 and the epidural worked this time. A was at the hospital with us the whole time, including the two days we were there after. M2 stayed at home with my mom so that she was in her own house with as little change from the norm as possible. Not having mommy and daddy around when you don't understand why is hard enough, let alone if you're not in your usual environment. She was THRILLED when her new brother came home. She even gave him his blog nickname--B. Without further ado, I'd like you to meet baby B.