Monday, September 23, 2013

Another 2 weeks of meals

I'm on the ball this go round! Had the meal plan done on Friday. Just didn't get it posted until now.

I did a really good job again of keeping the price down...I guess I'm just learning to anticipate when things are going to be on sale at the grocery store we shop at. The total cost for this meal plan came to $147 (rounded up, it was $146 and some change)...and that was with buying extra meat because it was on sale a few extra things for lunches that were on depending on where you shop, this meal plan should be relatively low in cost for 2 weeks. (P.S. I know you may be thinking- Well, she has 2 little kids...but I generally make anywhere from 4-6 servings when I cook (sometimes more) so it really is like shopping for a bigger family. My husband gets REALLY frustrated that we don't eat all the leftovers but I would rather cook it and have it available as leftovers than have meat getting freezer burnt because I'm not getting to it in time and cooking it in too small of portions. I tried for a while to only make enough just to feed us for only one meal, but that got frustrating because there wasn't enough for seconds if someone wanted more...)

Now...onto the meal plan and the beginning of Crock-tober...Yep, I'm going to do it. I'm going to try to do a month of crock pot meals...that being said, I am going to have 2 "break" meals in each meal plan for those days when you just can't get things into the crock pot in time.

So...let's finish out September and welcome a wonderful, crisp, chilly, lovely Crock-tober!

1. Skillet Lasagna (Made this last night. My husband LOVED it! It was so easy... gotta love 20 minute meals that turn out to be tasty!)
2. Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden Copycat) *I'm likely going to adapt this because I don't necessarily 100% agree with the ingredients or methods, but I've made this before and its super tasty! I'm also going to cook it in my crock pot...I've seen a couple of pins on Pinterest with a "how to" for timing for it. Should be tasty.
3. Crispy Onion Chicken
4. Hobo Tin Foil Dinners
5. Winger's Sticky Fingers (I will  be breading my chicken using the same method that I do for my sweet and sour chicken...I, in general, do not purchase breaded, pre-cooked chicken. Its too salty for my taste. My husband LOVES these, he actually thinks this recipe tastes better than the ones you get at Winger's.)
6. Crock Pot Sweet Barbecue Pork Steaks 
7. Cheesy Chicken, Bacon, and Tater Tot Crock Pot Bake (I'm excited to try this one!)
8. Crock Pot Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken
9. Disneyland Loaded Potato Soup
10. Pizza Soup * I will be adapting this recipe and using the crock pot
11. Pizza Rolls ( I posted this recipe on my blog earlier this year. I will find the link and post it here, but in the meantime, if you want it, I'm pretty sure there is a search function on my blog that will make it possible for you to search for it.)
12. Homemade Copycat Big Mac and french fries *P.S. you can just use Thousand Island dressing for the secret sauce as opposed to making the sauce listed in the recipe. It tastes exactly the same.
13. Lemon Chicken Carbonara
14. Homemade Chicken Pot Pie * I'll be adapting this recipe. Hoping I have the time to post a picture tutorial for you all! No reason to ingest tons of preservatives from a pre-made pot pie when you can make a nutritious and far more delicious version at home!

Happy cooking, darlings!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Dinner...A.K.A. Thanksgiving Practice

I know we have a few months before Thanksgiving rolls around, but I always am excited this time of year to get a little practice in for "The BIG day" in any way I can...

Last year, I discovered that you can roast a chicken in your Crock Pot (thanks, Pinterest).  I've done it a few times since then, and, while I know you may find several recipes or ways to do it online (believe me, I am just as confused as you many different ways to do many different lengths of time that it should cook...) I've just come to decide that the way I normally do things when I roast a bird in the oven or an electric roaster works much better than any of the confusing recipes.

Let me simplify this statement even more...because THIS is the ONLY way you're ever going to want to roast a bird of any type ever again, no matter if you're doing it in a roaster, crock pot, or your oven.

I like to think of myself as a bird roasting guru. I have prepared a full Thanksgiving Dinner for my family  almost every year since I was 13 (I was down and out one year with the stomach flu *yuck!* and the year I got married we weren't sure where we were going to spend Thanksgiving, so my family planned without me and we surprised them.)  Along the way, I have learned lots of tips and tricks of the trade from cooking magazines, Food Network, online recipes, word of mouth...and I have devised the most delicious, succulent way to roast a bird. Its so delicious that my grandfather (may he rest in peace) said I outdid HIS mother and MY GRANDMOTHER when it came to Thanksgiving birds.... 

Thanksgiving IS my superbowl...the Superbowl of COOKING! of course, like any "athlete", I have to get my practice in...

So...onto the recipe for my Crock Pot Roasted Chicken. (P.S> these techniques are the very same that you would use to roast a bird another way...yep, I'm giving up my secrets...use them well my young Paduans.)

First, you're going to let your chicken sit in the fridge to thaw for 2-3 days, this is VERY important. You don't want it to be frozen solid when you're trying to put it in because it won't cook, or if it does it will be a soggy mess, and the more defrosted it is, the more uniformly it will cook. (For a turkey, you'll want to let it sit in the fridge for 2-3 days and then soak overnight in a cold water bath)

Once its defrosted, you're going to take that baby out of the package and rinse it in cold water...Unless that puppy is fresh off of memaw's farm, its been sitting in its own "juices" for a while and you're going to want to rinse that off to allow it to taste a little more fresh... So, clean out and disinfect one half of your sink so that baby can have a clean bathtub to start its journey to tasty in.

Now the part, that most people're going to stick your hand up into the cavity to pull out the giblets. Depending on the brand, you may find they are in a neat little package, OR you may find that you have 4 little circular-ish red things that you have to pull out...since its a chicken, there should be a heart, liver, and two kidneys. Go to the top, and lift up the neck to be sure they didn't decide to leave you any other giblets (sometimes they get stuffed up in the neck area)...You're then going to rinse out the cavity until the water runs clear.  Take your hand and you will find that there should be a little hole inside the neck cavity that connects to the inner cavity...make sure that's clear so that the chicken can cook uniformly on the inside and then rinse through the neck cavity until the water runs clear. You'll be left with something like this:

Notice those yellow spots? Sometimes the bird hasn't been plucked all the way...squeeze the skin to be sure that you get all the ends of the feathers that may be left...its kind of like popping a zit...I know...that's gross...but trust me, you'll be so glad you did it.

Go ahead and let that puppy sit in your sink for a while so you can get your crock pot ready...

You're going to make 7  one and a half inch aluminum foil balls (you wouldn't do this for an oven roasted bird or a roaster roasted bird...this part is strictly for the crock pot and keeps the chicken from swimming in its own juices and getting soupy.)  You're going to arrange six of them in a circle on the outer edge of the crock pot, and then put the seventh, smack dab in the middle.  

Then you're going to cut up a small or medium onion into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks and lay those chunks in between the aluminum foil balls (you will put onion on the bottom of a roasting pan or in the pan your using to roast in the oven beneath the bird too...for added measure, if you like onion, you can stuff a few of the chunks into the bird's cavities...) You'll end up with a crock pot that looks like this.

Next, add 3/4 to 1 cup of water to the bottom. If you've got 'em...add 1 to 2 chicken boullion cubes for enhanced flavor (*note* if you're doing a turkey in a roaster or in your oven, you'll want to add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water, but you'd pour it over the turkey...I will tell you where in a later note. This will shrink the skin and keep the juices in. I like to heat it in the microwave with 2-3 boullion cubes until its boiling hot and then pour it over....but the timing is don't get antsy, I'll tell you when and where to pour.)

Now...put your chicken on top of the loveliness... Now, you're going to stick your fingers under the skin and pull it up to lift it from the meat... you'll do this all the way down to those lovely legs.

Now...for the seasoning. You're gonna want a small bowl or a measuring cup to mix it in... you're gonna need:

1 tsp salt
1 tsp seasoning salt
2 tsp garlic powder 
1 tsp herbed poultry seasoning
(I normally also use 1 tsps of Paprika, but I'm out of Paprika...good thing I decided to have a practice day, we'll need some before Thanksgiving)

Now, you're going to take the seasoning and rub it up underneath the skin, make sure you get under the skin of the legs too! (*Note* You can omit the garlic powder and cut 4 cloves of garlic into quarters, being sure to place 4 quarters on each breast and drumstick...also, if you're doing a turkey, you're going to want to double the seasoning recipe) Give that bird a GOOD, tenderizing massage!

Now...use the rest of the seasoning for the top (Note...if you're oven roasting...WAIT! Don't season the top until after the next step because after the next step is when you're going to pour your hot water on top.)

Try to spread it around as evenly as possibly...If you think that its too much for the top, then go back into the cavity and massage a little more onto the meat. Trust me, you want to use it all!

This next step is my BIGGEST secret...this is the way that you get juicy, moist delicious roasted meat EVERY TIME... You're gonna want to cut up 4 Tbs of butter...
 Peel the wrapper off, and then break those 4 tbs of butter in half...then you're going to place 2 halves (ie 1 tbs) of butter on each breast and leg...
 And voila! (Don't worry, the skin will shrink back down in the heat...
(For friends roasting in the oven or a roaster, this is the place where you'll dump your hot water over the top and THEN top with the rest of your seasoning...don't want to wash all the seasoning away!)

I know what you're thinking..."BRITTANY! You just took what would have been a healthy dinner and added a ton of unnecessary cholesterol..." But it IS necessary, VERY NECESSARY...That butter is going to melt in the heat, and you know what its going to do? Its going to melt into that meat and it is going to make it the most moist, delicious succulent roasted meat you've ever eaten!!!!  Fine...leave the butter off, see if I care...but the butter, my darlings, is what separates a good turkey or chicken from the MOST AMAZING TURKEY OR CHICKEN YOU'VE EVER EATEN IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now...if you're using the crock pot to cook this deliciousness, put your lid back on and don't lift it up for 4-8 hours (obviously, the smaller the bird you have, the less time it will take to cook. My bird is almost 4 pounds, so I'm going to wager that it will be in the 5-6 hour range.)  Let your nose be your guide. If it "smells" done, take your lid off and either test it with a meat thermometer, or cut a slice down the top of a breast to see if any pink juices flow out...if its pink, it probably needs another 30-45 min.

If  you're using my tips for your Thanksgiving're going to want to roast it according to the time on a roasting will either have come with your roaster, or you can find one online. If you're using an oven, you can find your roasting time using this roasting chart:
DON'T rely on the timer that's in your turkey! By the time that puppy pops up, its usually OVER done. Use and trust the roasting chart and invest in a meat thermometer to be sure...

Oven Roasters will either cover with the lid included with their oven roasting pan or foil (shiny side down!!! Bring that delicious heat inside!)  

Electric Roaster and Oven Roasted Turkey/Chicken Tip: You're going to use a spoon or baster to dump some of the juicy deliciousness falling into the pan on top of the bird and into the cavity of the bird every hour or so...don't worry if you fall behind..the important thing is that if you're cooking your bird for 4 hours, it should basted 3 times. 

This step is unnecessary in a crock pot.

So...what do you do now if you're using a Crock Pot? You don't have to baste anything...well, you set it, and let your house fill with delicious smells....

Oh...and here's a couple of pics for the naysayers that are worried the skin won't shrink back down after you've lifted it for the butter...

See...its been in my crock pot for about 45 minutes and its almost completely normal again. :)

I bet you're waiting for the finished product...well...Here ya go! TADA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, this wouldn't be Thanksgiving practice without homemade mashed potatoes and a swoon worthy gravy made from the drippings...

Let the bird rest for about 10 minutes when you've removed it from the heat before you carve it. It will allow it to bring all that lovely juice that sitting under the skin back into the meat.

(Note, if you want to make giblet gravy...when you have 2 to 3 hours left, you're going to take your giblets and simmer them with some onions a little salt,  and, if you prefer, some boullion on the stove. Put the lid on the sauce pan and ONLY take it off to stir the stock every hour or so. You want a rolling simmer, but not a boil so that the pan doesn't boil over. This works best with turkey giblets because you have MORE of have the neck and larger pieces of meat. You can cut up the giblets if you'd like to add them to the gravy, but my family was never big fans of that. The best part is that the neck meat will start to come off and you'll have some chunks of that deliciousness in me, its glorious. I don't tend to make giblet gravy when I do chicken. The giblets are so small that there really just isn't a lot of flavor to draw from them to make a decent stock, so I just use the drippings from the bottom of my pan or crock pot. Just carefully remove the chicken to a plate -its GOING to fall apart- then use some tongs or a fork to try to remove the majority of the onions and all the aluminum foil ball, and pour the drippings into a sauce pan and proceed with your favorite gravy preparation technique.)

In short, you will end with a delicious dinner that will make you WISH it was Thanksgiving already... but don't wish too hard...I still need some more practice before my Superbowl of cooking...

Hugs and Loves until next time, darlings!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Being Productive

I often feel like I'm not doing enough as a wife, as a mother, for myself...

There are lots of things to juggle.

I'm not going to lie, my house is a complete disaster area 95% of the time...with two kids under 2, messes are an inevitability of life and, to be honest, I get so sick of cleaning up a mess and having to turn around to clean it up again, that often, unless its a hazard, I just leave it and clean it up when the kids are finally in bed for the night...only to have the mess made AGAIN.

On top of the constant mess, my kids are running around in a diaper and no clothes, or last night's pajamas, with orphan child hair...

And my poor husband comes home to it...and I always feel so bad when he pitches in to help and does SO MUCH WORK because he's just gotten home from a 12-16 hour shift at work...I know he just wants to rest.

I've struggled lately more than usual. Feeling very insecure about my abilities to handle everything...I know what you're going to say...Don't worry about the messes, make the memories instead...this too shall pass...don't be influenced by the moms that have it all together on Pinterest...

But, lets be honest- if we have kids we ALL want to be THAT mom...the one that makes cute Bento lunch boxes, the one that has a pristine, sparkly house at least 50 % of the time, the one whose kids are always seasonably dressed with perfectly coiffed hair...its something we aspire to...

I've been pondering on a General Conference talk about Good, Better, and Best by Elder Oaks. (Find it HERE.  If you have NO IDEA what General Conference is and you'd like to know you can find out HERE.)

I guess my biggest struggle is wondering if I'm spending my time wisely...

I spend a lot of time with my girls, in the trenches (a.k.a on the floor) and doing everything I can to help them grow and develop...but when I look at the mess, I want to cry...but then I get up to clean, and I feel SO GUILTY as little voices call out in tears to me from the baby gate or when accidents happen that I'm not there to help prevent...Case in point: On Wednesday, Faith decided it would be a good idea to put her bean bag chair on top of the ottoman and try to sit on it...I was busily trying to wash the dishes that had piled up over the last few was a necessary task. I had NO counter space left and they were starting to pile up on the stove for lack of space. If I wanted my family to eat, I needed to wash dishes. (For the record, we DON'T have an electric dishwasher...I have 2 manual ones, they are known as my hands, and it can be difficult to get to dishes when my hands are otherwise engaged.)  Well, when Faith sat down in her chair, it of course having slippery material, slid on the ottoman and she toppled off of it and on top of her baby sister...

I heard a loud thud, and then screams of bloody murder from two baby girls...

I ran out, and my initial reaction, seeing the position their bodies were in, was that Faith had broken her sister...Phillie was on the bottom of what seemed to be a pile of tangled limbs...I untangled them as gently and quickly as I could and hurriedly stood Faith up and grabbed Phillie... She was fine, more scared than anything. I sat her down and turned to look at Faith. To my horror, there was blood pouring down her face from her nose... I grabbed her, an ice pack, and snuggled her until the bleeding and crying had stopped, checking carefully to make sure that we didn't have a broken nose on our hands...

and the struggle continues...I can't be in two places at once. Of course, I felt guilty about the accident, but I felt frustrated...I can't be in two places at kids needed to eat dinner, I had to do the what would have been the better or best decision in that situation?

In the end, I know I did all I could...

The only productive time I have is when my girls nap. Unfortunately, I'm so tired from keeping them out of mischief that I often just want to take a nap myself...but I do my best to wash a load of dishes, put in a load of laundry, clean up BIG messes...all the while wishing I had about 2 more hours of naptime so I could just get it ALL done.

As if I wasn't already struggling enough, I joined with my friend in a challenge to read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover before General the time the challenge started 3 or 4 days ago, it was read 21 pages a day for 26 days and you would be done...yeah, I'm STILL only 10 pages in and feeling COMPLETELY like a failure because every day I get notifications from the Facebook group for the challenge where all these lovely women are writing about all their awesome experiences and all that they are learning and how much better it has made them feel...and I sit, dumbfounded, feeling worse and worse because its just NOT happening. I can't read when the girls are awake because they pull the book out of my hands and want to look at it...I can't read when they nap because there are 15 bajillion other things that NEED to be done so my house can function...and by the time Jeff gets home, I pretty much just want to sit down, snuggle with him, and forget about EVERYTHING ELSE that I STILL need to do...

Today, it all came to a head. During the girls morning nap today, I looked at my house and the front yard...had a good cry...and then went out with a scrub brush and disinfectant spray to clean out and take down the beloved splash pool. There was sediment and debris because of all the rainstorms we've had lately...About an hour later, it was completed, and I came inside...I was prepared to sit and take a quick 20 minute break and then tackle the massive pile of dishes in the sink, but the girls had other plans...I pulled them out of bed and put on a movie...and then decided that the dishes HAD to be done...if I wanted to be able to make lunch, I needed pots and pans to cook in. I washed until I couldn't put anything more into the dish drainer...and the girls screamed and screamed at the baby gate because mom wasn't in the room keeping them entertained.

I made lunch and decided to make it up to them by making Bento Box hot dogs. It took more time than I thought it would, and of course, they aren't really old enough to appreciate it, but it made me feel a little was something creative to get my mind off of how stressed I was that EVERYTHING was a disaster in my house.

The girls were fed, Jeff came home for lunch and left, I tore out the girls' Autumn clothes and went through them and put their summer clothes back in storage (Faith took this as an opportunity to play dress up and Phillie crawled in and out of boxes, I decided that as long as no one was screaming, I was GOING to get it done.), and after a few rousing games of build the tower and repeat the words "up" and "down" as it came crashing down, to work on Faith's speech therapy goals, it was finally naptime again.

I put the girls down, and then decided to get on with a project I've been meaning to do since Monday.

I ordered a small toy organizer in hopes that it would help with my efforts to keep the living room a little cleaner. We live in a small house, and I DON'T have the luxury of a playroom for the girls. I had contemplated putting the toys in the girls' room, but I also know that Faith has been fighting her nap/naps recently, and toys would just give her a reason to be out of bed creating havoc.

I set up the toy organizer on Monday and cleaned out the giant tupperware tote that we'd been using as a toy box, dejunking and trying to organize things as best as I could (because the girls were awake while all this was happening).  I decided I'd spend this week watching what stuffed animals REALLY get played with, so that the rest could go to Goodwill (because we don't have a Deseret Industries here).  

Well, today was the day...but I decided to take it one step further. The toy organizer seemed to be working at keeping the mess down because the girls can find what they want without having to tear EVERYTHING out of the toy organizer, but the problem was the placement. We'd moved the toys to a corner next to the couch, but everything that was being strewn about was going under the couch, in between the couch and ottoman, and under the ottoman because the girls didn't want to pull things out and take it to an open area to play... I was DONE stepping on toys when all I wanted was to put my feet up for a few measly minutes..

So...I spent the next 2 hours reorganizing the furniture in my living room. I moved the couch to a different wall, moved the piano to a better location and centralized the toys in front of a large, open, LOVELY playing area on the carpet...

So far, it has seemed to work.  Faith even decided that the space under her art easel where I had stacked the stuffed animals neatly is her new retreat. She spent the better part of an hour underneath the easel, laying on the giant stuffed alligator and playing with the stuffed animals and dolls...Hopefully it continues to work, because it will make my life MUCH easier. I got the pool cleaned and taken down, did about 1/4 of the dishes (SO MANY MORE TO DO...) got the girls' Autumn wardrobe out and in drawers ready for use, and organized my living room space...

I was "productive"...but at what cost? I'm now kicking myself because I KNOW I didn't do enough of the speech therapy exercises with Faith today, and poor Phillie had about had it by the time bedtime rolled around...if I wasn't RIGHT NEXT TO HER, her world was going to come crashing down... Let's just say, I spent the evening pretty much attached to a mamma deprived one year old who was going to lose it if I did anything other than hold her...Oh, and I yet again didn't read anymore of the Book of Mormon...Yay! More stories of success from EVERYONE ELSE while I quietly sit and shame myself for not making it more of a priority...(yes, I know I could be reading instead of typing this Blog, but I really just need to vent...)

I guess the whole Good, Better, Best thing will always be a struggle...I guess, today has just been a not so great day where I have really struggled to be positive.

I guess, when it all comes down to it, I need to remind myself to be grateful for little victories... So, here they are:

1) I got the pool cleaned, taken down and dried before a MAJOR rainstorm hit this afternoon...we're talking 50 mph wind, pouring rain, and thunder and lightning that pretty much terrified me for an hour because it was shaking my house. If I hadn't spent the short naptime this morning taking care of the pool, it may have blown away or would have been an even bigger disaster to clean out later. Yay me.

2) I made an adorable, balanced lunch for my girls and got to see some of the funniest and sweetest little faces...Faith picked up one of the hot dog octopuses and made an excited noise, but then gave the funniest confused look when she tried to eat it, she had NO CLUE how to get it into her mouth...Phillie just outright didn't even recognize them as hot dogs. I finally had to stop her from picking around them to eat her pears and mac and cheese, and put one of the tentacles of her hot dog squid on her tongue so she could taste it (something I often have to do when its a new food she's never tried before.) Her eyes got really wide, she smiled and yelled out "This is GOOD!" and proceeded to eat her hot was so funny to watch her realize that it really was one of her favorite foods.

3) My living room is now organized.  It was nice to sit and play with the girls and not feel the urge to vacuum least there is one room in the house that I can be at ease in... ay yi yi...

4) The girls now have seasonably appropriate clothes to wear (when they are dressed)...I was very worried the other day when we ran to the store in a freezing rainstorm and I didn't have long pants, long sleeves, or jackets for them to wear...I will feel much better now when we leave the house that we can keep them healthy and happy and prevent them from catching their death of cold as the weather starts to cool down.

5) While I didn't get ALL the dishes done, I was able to do enough that I could make lunch and dinner in my kitchen without wanting to just sit down and cry...

Don't get me wrong, I walk into my kitchen and I want to cry...but once some of the dishes are done, it doesn't seem so bad.

I also need to count other victories...I may not be 84 pages into the Book of Mormon, but I'm 10 pages in...I guess I just need to work at my own pace. A challenge is nice, but I'm seriously going to tear my hair out if I try to catch up, and, let's be honest, am I REALLY going to get that much out of it if I'm just skimming to catch up with everyone else?  I will read at my own pace...even if that means I only get a chapter or a few verses in a day...there is no shame in not being done before conference, and I shouldn't let the other sweet sisters' stories of success at the challenge make me feel bad... we are all at different places in our lives...we all define what is good, better and best for our family, and for ourselves.

Right now...the BEST choice I can make is to spend the time that my daughters are awake with them as MUCH as I possibly can, to be as PRESENT as I possibly can be...Faith needs me more than ever, and that awake time is time I can spend with her doing the exercise that the speech therapist asked me to complete...if today has taught me anything, its that Phillie needs me around. She doesn't necessarily need all the attention (and believe me, when she wants attention, she knows what to do to get it), but she needs to SEE that I'm there and I will help her and give her what she needs when she needs it.

My house will probably be a disaster most of the time...but I'm going to do my best to shoot for 75% of the time...I will get there. I just need to be patient with myself and try to remind that OCD part of myself that there are more important things than a perfectly pristine kitchen...

In the end, perhaps the most productive stuff I do isn't really going to be considered productive from people on the outside looking in, and sometimes it may be. In the end, I just have to be patient and remember that I'm learning how to balance it all, and that is okay. There CAN be joy in learning, I just have to laugh and remember that its okay to not have it all together all the time...its okay to continue to aspire to be better, but I need to STOP obsessing about it, because its only making me less available to the people I love.

Hugs and loves until next time, Darlings. :)

P.S. I promise, I really am feeling a little bit better right now. I think I just needed to vent to think clearly about why it was bothering me so much. Bless you for reading this whole thing! LOL

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meal Plan Sept 11 to 25

Its that time again, darlings!


Were you dying with eager anticipation awaiting my post? I'm sorry.

I had the meal plan half done on Monday, and would have finished but I was teaching quite a few voice lessons and then I officially finished it yesterday and we went shopping.

The awesome news? This meal plan turned out to be surprisingly cheap. Your results may vary depending on what you already have in your house, but we only spent $147 on groceries. Go me! I love it when I'm thrifty without even realizing it!

Without further are your next two weeks of dinners (with applicable links). Happy cooking!

(P.S. I'm thinking I may do Crock-tober....31 days of meals in the crock pot with links to the recipes and a review...What do y'all think?)

1. Breadstick Pizza Casserole
2. Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas
3. Slow Cooker "Bourbon" Chicken (uses apple juice instead, tastes the same.)
4. Monterey Chicken
5. Korean Beef and Rice (Slow Cooker Variation HERE)
6. Sweet and Sour Pork
7. Forgotten Chicken 
8. Chicken Curry
9. Copycat Noodles and Co. Penne Rosa
10. Pioneer Woman's Monday Night Stir Fry (I'm doing it minus the Peanut Oil)
11. Crock Pot Porcupine Meatballs
12. Crock Pot Roasted Chicken (I know this was on the meal plan a few weeks ago or last week, can't remember which, but it never got made, so I decided I'd better throw it on here again so that the whole chicken sitting in my freezer would stop taking up space. LOL)
13. Buffalo Chicken Bites
14. Cheeseburger Macaroni

Hugs and Loves until next time, darlings!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Phillie!!!!

Click on the picture to read a few of her favorite things. :)
My Dearest Philadelphia,

I can't believe that you're already one year old! Time has gone by so fast!

While there are times that I miss my sweet little baby, I am so excited to watch you grow and change. You have always been and will always be one of the sweetest babies I've ever met. You love to cuddle and be held. You always try to make people smile. When I'm not feeling well, you always crawl over, give me your signature "charming smile" and make the darkest of clouds disappear.

You love Minnie Mouse, music, dancing (well, bobbing since you can't walk yet to dance like sissy does), and playing with baby dolls. You've started loving tutus and necklaces as much as your big sister and you're always up for a wrestling match with me or daddy.

Today, I am going to kiss your chubby little cheeks as much as I can...who knows if they will be this glorious and cherub-like next year when you're 2. I'm also going to snuggle and mug on you as much as possible....but I know you won't mind. You're a superstar and you know that you deserve to be the center of attention whenever possible.

While today marks a milestone, one year in what I pray will be a long and happy life, I want you to know that you will always be my little baby. I love you forever.

You bring me and your daddy so much joy. No matter what may come along the way, know that we love you and hope and pray that we can help lead you along until you're strong enough to find and choose the type of life you'd like to have for yourself.

You are a daughter of God who loves you. You're pretty remarkable and we feel very blessed by Him that He would allow such a special and sweet spirit into our home. You will do great things!

Your Mommy and Daddy

P.S. Here is a slideshow of the pictures we took of you this year! Look at how much you've grown in such a short time!

Monday, September 2, 2013

One Step at a Time

Oh...this face...

I can't begin to tell you how much I love this face...and how frustrated I can get with this face...

Faith's first meeting with her new speech therapist went well. I didn't really get any ideas or information from her, as she was redoing the evaluation that Idaho had flubbed up...but I did get something I haven't had in a while- reassurance.

I had been told in Idaho that we couldn't start any therapies until we had a diagnosis, and our new speech therapist Ms. Carrie said that is absolutely NOT true.

She said that, after hearing our concerns, watching Faith, and completing her evaluation that she can definitely see a diagnosis that goes in one of two directions- no surprise- the directions were either hearing loss or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

She said that Faith exhibits mannerisms that are common in kids with ASD (sitting with her back facing the people she is socializing with, not wanting to play with other kids, not wanting physical contact unless she instigates it, etc.) however, she has seen in the past kids using these behaviors as an adaptation for help to feel some control in their world when they have hearing we're still where we were a few weeks ago...

But- back to the reassurance- the hope.

She said that the beginning therapies that she would use for a child that has ASD and hearing loss are the same. She has things that she can do with Faith to help her RIGHT NOW as opposed to waiting until we can find a diagnosis to get more targeted therapies.

She is coming Wednesday and I can't wait.

I don't know if I'm just getting impatient because I FINALLY feel like we have the help we need or like we're going to get somewhere or if Faith is getting more impatient and frustrated, but it seems like in the past week her tantrums and anger have been bumped up a notch.

Today I got the joy of dealing with a full on tantrum for 20 minutes because she wanted to put on a dress up dress... I had NO CLUE why she was freaking out all of a sudden. One minute she was fine the next she was running to me in tears, pinching me, flailing her arms, arching her back and just being all around nasty...Finally, I sat her down, she clung to my leg like a boa constrictor to its prey and pinched, digging her nails in as she screamed... when she realized I wasn't going to pick her back up she ran over and grabbed the dress and threw it at me...I picked it up and she pulled herself into my lap...still in tears she raised her legs waiting for me to pull it on...

and then...the tantrum was over...the tears stopped, she smiled, babbled and walked off to continue playing and I was left stunned thinking, "WHAT.WAS. THAT!?"

We've had similar tantrums over the last week, but this is the most recent and freshest in my mind...the worst one was last week when she brought me a sippy and I jokingly acted like I was drinking out of it instead of running to the kitchen directly to get her a drink...she melted into a pool of tears that didn't stop for nearly half an hour...she wanted a drink not for me to play with dare I patronize her! Yikes!

For the most part, I try to ignore the tantrums or, when they're bad, I take her back to sit on her bed until she is done...but I'm not sure where the line is- the line that separates the point of being understanding and helping her to understand that she doesn't need to act out and the line of not spoiling her- and I'm not sure where that lies with her. With other little ones I've cared for, the line has been simple and easy to find... you know when they're being melodramatic and when you should scold them for their tantrum, ignore the tantrum, or be understanding to get to the bottom of the tantrum...but with Faith, I have NO IDEA how much gets through and how much she understands so its hard to know how to handle her thrashing, arched back, flailing arms, pinching, etc...

So...I let her have her tantrum, try to snuggle her and then excuse myself to go into another room to breathe or cry...or both...

I have noticed that she WILL respond to physical cues (i.e. If I tell her to "Come here" she won't come, but if I say "come here" while gesturing to her with my hands, she comes.) but I really don't know how to use physical cues to stop a tantrum...

I finally had enough today after our dress up dress tantrum... and decided that I can't wait for someone to tell me what to do, I need communication NOW, and spent the rest of the afternoon while the girls napped, while I should have been cleaning to get my house ready for voice lessons tomorrow, researching American Sign Language teaching aids and looking up the signs for basic words... I have a vague idea of how to teach them, but I need to wait until we've had another paycheck before I can fully implement the plan that is cooking in my brain...

In the meantime, I'm going to start using hand over hand reinforcement to try to show her the signs for basic words that we NEED her to be able to know and I'm going to try to push the envelope a bit when it comes to waiting for her /forcing her to use the signs before she gets what she wants.

When it comes right down to it I know her physical cues when she wants something, but not everyone does...and I would hate to think of what would happen if I left her with someone who didn't know her cues...she needs a more universal cue system and ASL would be a helpful way to accomplish that...Yes, not every sitter is going to know ASL, but with enough advance notice I can let them know what her basic signs are and she can get what she needs without a meltdown... and, most importantly to me, her daddy will be able to understand her too... I think he gets really frustrated with her, followed by being frustrated with me because I tell him what she's asking for but I don't realize I need to tell him until she is already starting to melt down.

In the end, I'm feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

Frustrated because I have ideas but not the means to implement them right away and overwhelmed because I have SO MUCH WORK to do and so much to learn so I can be a better mom for Faith, the mom she needs.

Ms. Carrie is coming Wednesday to work with Faith and give us the complete results of her evaluation, in 2 weeks she will try to do the hearing test in our home and if she is unsuccessful, we have to go the route of taking her to an audiologist and having her put under general I'm REALLY praying she tolerates the test in our home.

In the end, I have to remind myself that slow and steady wins the race. Yes, I have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do, but I don't have to do it all at once... and the biggest blessing is knowing that I am going to have the support to do it here.

 I just continue to pray that God will continue to lead us to the right doctors and therapists to help Faith be a clearer communicator...whether that means we learn ASL as a family or she slowly starts to find her voice, I will be happy as long as she can communicate her needs and not be so frustrated by other's inability to see what she is asking for...

I know we're on the path...we're travelling that path a little more slowly than I would like but I feel at peace and know that we're there... sometimes you just have to look for the glimmer of light in the darkness and take a step at a time, but its better to take it one step at a time than to stand still...

In the end, Faith is still Faith. For the most part she is very happy and sweet. She loves to twirl and giggle. I couldn't be more blessed to have her in my life. I work hard every day to be the mom she needs because she DESERVES to have a mom that will work to be better. I love her so much, I just want to know that she will be healthy, happy, and have all the tools she needs to accomplish what the Lord has sent her here to do.

Hugs and loves until next time, darlings.