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The Things I Don’t Do

October 5, 2017

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Today I turned 30. Truthfully, I’m not one to get too worked up over a specific age or date on the calendar, but something about 30 – a new decade – makes me a little sentimental and reflective. Joe tells me I need to stop listening to sappy, serious podcasts because my deep-thinking, Enneagram 4 self is already prone to feeling all the feelings. It’s true. But today I’m affording myself a little time of self-reflection as I prepare to embark on a new decade. I’ve heard great things about 30 and I firmly believe that I would rather be 30 than 20 any and all days of the week.

I got a question from a blog reader/Instagram follower the other day asking if I would share how I “do it all” or, if I don’t do it all, what I don’t do. I mulled the question over for a week or so and thought about how I would (honestly) answer that question. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel like I’m just doing my best to juggle it all, but I’ve been surprised at how much I LOVE this stage of life with very little kids. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of days when I just want a nap and a solo vacation, but I have also never felt more alive, more challenged, more fulfilled than I do right now. My mom is a really high-energy individual, about twice as much as I am, so I think I do come by my energy honestly.

Let me also say that while I might seem like I’m “doing it all” sometimes, I have the advantage of the fact that my work is flexible and can be very accommodating to life with little kids. I have 16 hours of childcare each week and if I want to work at 5 am or early Sunday morning I can because I’m the boss. Working part-time affords me more time to do housework, spend quality time with the girls, dinner prep, etc. It’s a gift and opportunity that isn’t lost on me and my hat goes off to all the full-time working mommas trying to juggle it all.

THINGS I DON’T DO (in no particular order)

  1. Workouts longer than 30 minutes. It’s just not worth it to me. I want to be fit and fit into my jeans, and that can be done in 30 minutes, 5 to 6 days per week. Anything more feels, for me, like a vanity project and asking my kids to tolerate more than 30 minutes tends to result in more stress than benefit.
  2. Fancy Dinners. I DO make dinner for my family most nights of the week, but let me tell you that if you learn how to cook meat well, roast veggies and cook some type of grain you really are set.
  3. Over-Commitment. Life is crazy enough without me adding too many things to our plate as a family. I’m an introvert at heart, so when our family runs ragged I start to get snappy. I don’t parent well, I’m not a good spouse or friend. We have a few standing commitments right now (Wednesday night youth group, Sunday night church life group, and Joe helps with the high school football team on Friday nights) so I’ve intentionally avoided adding any other standing commitments to our calendar for the time being.
  4. Deep Cleaning My House. Before Collins arrived, one of my good mom friends suggested that I hire someone to clean my house to take something off my plate. We now have someone come for two hours every other week. It’s not enough help that I can completely abandon cleaning on a daily basis, but I don’t have to worry about keeping the water spots off our fixtures or scrubbing our tub and shower, etc.
  5. Spending more than 10 minutes getting ready. I DO get ready almost every day, but it doesn’t take much time. I intentionally keep my hair long because of this reason. It’s easier for me to get ready for my day and look/feel put together when my hair is long. It takes me about 10 minutes to do something with my hair and swipe on a little minimalist makeup. Shameless plug: When your skin and hair feels great using high-quality products, you don’t really need much makeup.
  6. Playing the social media comparison game. This isn’t a particular sticking point for me, but I do try to keep in mind that I’m the owner of my social media feed. I decide who shows up in my feed and who doesn’t. If there is someone who is rubbing me the wrong way or making me feel less than, it’s probably my own heart issue more than anything, but it’s my responsibility to follow judiciously. If someone or something makes you feel less than? Unfollow.
  7. Allow my mornings to be frazzled. I’m fully aware that my work at home schedule puts me at a distinct advantage because I don’t have to hustle to get the girls dropped off at daycare or be at the office at a certain time. But I do wake up at the crack of dawn each day to get some time to myself and set our family up for a smooth morning. Most mornings I’m awake at 5. I have coffee, read my Bible, do a little personal development or pleasure reading, and answer emails. Then I get Joe’s lunch packed, unload the dishwasher, run a load of laundry and fold a load if I’m on my game. Before the girls get up, I wash my face, get dressed and put on a little makeup and we start our mornings sometime between 6:30 and 7. Ainsley usually watches and episode of Curious George when she wakes up because she is slow to get going in the morning and if Collins is still sleeping I’ll do a little work on my computer sitting next to her.

Things I’m Learning to Do (key word, learning)

  1. Embracing the Chaos. I grew up in an only-child family most of my life where my house was quiet and I had plenty of time to myself. Admittedly, the transition to two kids was a little jarring to me because it’s just so loud and crazy all the time. But I’m learning to embrace the chaos, laugh about it, and even, dare I say, love it?
  2. Putting my phone down. This is an area I could still use some significant improvement on, but I’m working on being more conscious about my phone use around the girls. I don’t mind them seeing me work – I think it’s good they know what mom does and that I work hard – but I don’t want mindless scrolling of social media to distract me from what really matters.
  3. Being more organized. I’m about as far from Type-A as can be in many ways, so schedules and organization are a big area of improvement. I’m realizing that with two kids, my memory and head space just isn’t what it used to be, so writing all the things down is not just a nicety but a necessity.

Here’s to 30 being the best decade yet!
Madison

Family, Food & Recipes

Sweet Potato Chili Bake + Kale

October 3, 2017

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Next up in our Week of Recipes on Espresso and Cream is a fun way to remix your chili leftovers. Originally, I was going to take baked potatoes and top them with the chili, plus a few other toppings, but after thinking it through I decided that putting together something in casserole form might be easier for the busy moms out there who want to prep their meals before work or other activities. Then all that is left to do is toss the dish in the oven and let it bake until the potatoes are tender!

Using the sweet potatoes as a stretch food for the remaining chili yielded LOTS of leftovers for lunches, and I could see you easily freezing some of the leftover portions to reheat down the road if you are into that type of thing. 🙂

Sweet Potato Chili Bake + Kale
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2½ cups leftover Three Bean Chili with Beef
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese or cheddar cheese
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking pan with cooking spray or brush with oil.
  2. Toss sweet potatoes with the 1 tablespoon oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Layer potatoes into prepared baking dish. Spread leftover chili evenly over potatoes. Top with the shredded cheese.
  3. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  4. Just before serving, massage chopped kale with olive oil and salt. Transfer to a skillet and sautee 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat until kale is tender and slightly crispy. Serve with sweet potato bake.

 

Family, Food & Recipes

Three Bean Chili with Beef and Kale

October 2, 2017

img_5571Happy Monday, friends! I’m checking in today with the second recipe from the “Week of Recipes” on Espresso and Cream. This is the second recipe as part of a week long meal plan full of easy, tasty, family-friendly weeknight meals. For the full meal plan and recipe, head on over to THIS post and stay tuned throughout the week for the rest of the week’s recipes.

Since it’s starting to cool off in my neck of the woods I’ve been all about making big batches of chili. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with chili in the past is that we end up having SO much leftover because it’s just me at Joe and Ainsley doesn’t eat all that much. And while I do love leftovers, eating chili all week isn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a good time. So this recipe is going to get refashioned into a new recipe tomorrow. Stay tuned for the recipe!

PS: If you have vegetarians in your family see the recipe directions for an easy way to please vegetarians and meat eaters alike!

Three Bean Chili with Beef and Kale
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or grape seed oil
  • 1 medium red, yellow, or orange sweet pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I like the pre minced jarred garlic for weeknight ease)
  • 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) chili beans in sauce (I like Mrs. Grimes)
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained but not rinsed
  • 1 can (15 oz.) white beans, drained but not rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Sour cream, shredded cheese, whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips for serving
Instructions
  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, brown ground beef; drain and set ground beef aside. Add oil to stock pot along with the chopped pepper and cook over medium high heat 4 to 6 minutes or until peppers are tender, adding in the garlic the last minute of cooking.
  2. Add in the tomatoes, chili beans, black beans, white beans, ground beef and remaining spices. Stir until well combined. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes to blend the flavors together.
  3. If desired, this mixture can be kept in the slow cooker instead of the stovetop.
  4. Just before serving, massage the 1 tablespoon oil into the kale and sprinkle lightly with salt. Sautee kale in a medium skillet over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until kale is slightly crispy and tender.
  5. Spoon kale into bowls. Top with the chili, followed by the cheese, sour cream and whole grain tortilla chips.
  6. *If you want to make a vegetarian option for this meal, prepared chili as directed but add the ground beef at the end, portioning out desired vegetarian chili servings before adding in the ground beef.

 

Family, Food & Recipes

A Week of (TRULY EASY) Family Meals

September 28, 2017

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When I took to Instagram to ask what YOU wanted to see more of on Espresso and Cream the answer was very clear: More easy, healthy, weeknight family meals. I get it, because the dinnertime struggle is real, isn’t it? The hours of 5-7 pm are the craziest, most stressful hours of the day, aren’t they? They are also the only hours my husband gets to spend with the girls during the week before bed time, and I have been craving a solution that makes that time less stressful.

And while I would love to reach for take-out some nights, we have very few take-out options in our small town and hardly any healthy take-out so cooking at home is a necessity. I have dabbled in meal-subscription services and meal planning services in the past, but I’ve been really frustrated by the amount of prep the recipes required and the generally complicated nature of some of the recipes. And don’t even get me started on services like Blue Apron… (so. much. chopping.)

But, if you’re trying to stay on a budget, you really do need your meals to be planned cohesively so that waste is minimized throughout the week and all your food is maximized. It’s great to go and pick out five yummy recipes on Pinterest, but if they aren’t cohesive you could be spending a LOT of money on all sorts of different ingredients and left with a lot of leftover food at the end of the week. Been there, done that.

And then I realized something: I am the solution. Well, not the solution, but I have the background and skills as a recipe developer and food editor to create the solution I have been craving. So last week I took 20 minutes to plot out and write down recipes I was already making for my family, and finding ways to utilize one day’s leftovers in a new way the next night and a really budget-friendly, EASY (truly!) meal plan was created.

So, starting next week I’m going to share an entire week’s worth of easy recipes. These are the type of recipes that my family makes on the regular but I’ve never shared because I told myself these weren’t really “recipes” and they were too simple to be blog-worthy. But that’s what we all really want, right? Recipes that require very little prep and are family-friendly. Since I’m a vegetarian, there are also tips in most of the recipes on how to make the recipe veg-friendly if you’re in a similar boat with both vegetarians and meat-eaters in your family.

Before I get to the meal plan itself, I wanted to share our strategy for the rest of the meals during the week aside from dinner. I usually make a large pasta bake with whole wheat pasta, ground beef, marinara and cheese on Sunday and portion it out for Joe’s lunches throughout the week. He eats the same thing again and again but doesn’t mind. I’ll include a clementine or other piece of fruit, a homemade treat (like a cookie) and some carrot sticks. It’s super easy! Since I work at home, I make a smoothie for lunch almost every day with protein + greens powder, almond milk, frozen banana, and peanut butter and Ainsley usually has leftovers, a PB&J with fruit and carrots, etc. And for breakfast we almost always have oatmeal with fruit and nut butter or eggs + toast.

I did all my grocery shopping at our local Walmart Supercenter and paid roughly $65 for all the ingredients for the meals themselves. And trust me – we had plenty of leftovers at the end of the week when it was all said and done! Enough to freeze or eat for lunch the next day. It was the first time in months that I didn’t get to the end of the week and feel like my fridge was totally barren. We ate well, I was NOT stressed at dinnertime and we stayed on track with our grocery budget.

MEAL PLAN
Monday // Slow Cooker Taco Chicken
Tuesday // Easy Three Bean Chili with Beef + Kale
Wednesday // Sweet Potato Chili Bake + Kale
Thursday  // Mediterranean Chickpea Salad with Pita
Friday // BLT Salads and Homemade Bread (I love Pinch of Yum’s recipe, which you should start the night before)
Saturday // Eat down the fridge leftovers!

GROCERY LIST // (for roughly 4 servings at each meal)

Produce
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 pkg. hearts of Romaine lettuce
2 bunches of kale
1 English cucumber
1 medium yellow, red, or orange sweet pepper
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 lemon
Mixed greens (optional)

Meat
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
12 oz. bacon

Canned
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (15 oz. each) chili beans in sauce
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 package taco seasoning
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans
1 (15 oz.) can white beans
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
1 jar kalamata olives (need 1/3 cup)

Dry
1 package whole wheat/whole grain pita bread
2 bags whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips

Dairy
8 oz. feta cheese
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
2 bags shredded Mexican blend cheese or cheddar cheese (2 cups)

Pantry Items
Olive oil or grapeseed oil
Butter
All-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Salad dressing of your choice for BLT salad (we like poppyseed and balsamic vinaigrette mixed 50/50)
Spices (cumin, chili powder, smoked or regular paprika, onion powder, dried oregano)
Garlic (for ease, I like the pre-minced garlic in a jar)
Brown sugar

Other Items We Bought
Yogurts (Fage 2% for me, flavored Chobani for Joe and Ainsley)
1 gallon 2% milk
1 gallon unsweetened almond milk
18 eggs
Sparkling water
Applesauce pouches
Peanut butter
Whole grain bread
3 or 4 avocados
3 or 4 apples
1 package clementines
2 bunches of bananas
Frozen raspberries and/or blueberries
Rolled oats
Trail mix

Family

Baby Sleep // Independent Crib Sleep

September 20, 2017

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I’ve been really hesitant to talk about the topic of baby sleep, despite the large number of requests I’ve gotten on the topic, because I’m afraid the second I talk about sleep my baby will decide she hates sleeping. That’s the way these type of things usually work, right? So I’ll preface this by saying that there are plenty of aspects on baby sleep that I don’t have mastered, but both Ainsley and Collins were/are babies who loved to sleep in their cribs and they both are now really great at putting themselves to sleep. So, without further preamble, let’s talk about how to get your baby to enjoy sleeping in their crib and go down easily!

To lay the groundwork, we are big believers in Babywise. Joe and I are both “sleep sensitive” individuals, meaning that we don’t do super well with very little sleep and thrive on some degree of routine. I also believe that babies and children need good, restful sleep for optimal health and brain development. Those two factors led us to Babywise and our implementation of a schedule at an early age for both girls.

When Ainsley was little I got frustrated and discouraged by the fact that I had lots of friends who didn’t follow a schedule and had babies who were sleeping through the night much earlier than my baby. I (wrongly) assumed that if I followed the book and a schedule that I would see the results in night time and nap time sleep. But, as moms know, A + B doesn’t always equal C. For us, the greatest benefit of Babywise wasn’t that our children slept longer stretches sooner than other babies, but that implementing the strategies made for very independent sleepers who were easy to put to sleep without a lot of extra “stuff” or routines.

Creating an Independent Sleeper 

Crib Sleep //
With both girls, we started them off in their cribs from day 3 and day 1 respectively. I know that goes against the AAP’s new recommendation, so that’s ultimately up to your own comfort level. It only took three days for me to realize that I couldn’t sleep with Ainsley in the room with us. Every noise or grunt woke me up and I found myself interfering too quickly when she wasn’t even awake but was going through a period of less restful sleep. For new moms, I should stress that there is a difference between true crying and fussing between sleep cycles. That will different from baby to baby, so give it some time and you’ll start to learn your baby’s cries and noises.

All that to say, the crib was a familiar and comfortable place for the girls from the start. I also found it easier to get them used to their cribs when they were very sleepy newborns rather than waiting until they were older and sleep became more challenging as they “woke up” from the sleepy newborn stage. With Ainsley, I let her take more naps on my chest or in my arms, but with Collins I just didn’t have the time with a busy toddler so she took most of her naps in her crib from the start.

Our Crib Set-Up //
-Black-Out Curtains
-Crib with nothing attached to it, no mobiles, nothing to indicate the crib is a place of “play”
-Baby snugly swaddled* (we liked this swaddle and this swaddle best)
-Sound machine running (we have one of these for both our girls)
-Once we were ready to drop the swaddle, we transitioned into the Zipadee-Zip since babies can safety be in one when they are able to roll

*The most recent safe sleep recommendations say to drop the swaddle at 8 weeks due to a rolling risk; we dropped it closer to 10 weeks.

Routine // Eat, Play, Sleep
As anyone who follows Babywise knows, the routine is Eat-Play-Sleep. They recommend that you feed baby, then allow them to have their awake time (which as a very little baby, will be pretty much non existent at first) followed by sleep. This prevents baby from getting into a “eat to sleep” cycle where they need to eat in order to fall asleep. Because, if they eat to fall asleep every time, when they are older your baby may have an eat-to-sleep association that results in more frequent night wakings.

Beginning Stages of Independent Sleep // Birth – 8 Weeks 
During the early days and weeks I would put the girls down to sleep awake but very drowsy in their cribs, swaddled, and then proceed to play paci-pong until they fell asleep. A paci is technically a sleep prop, but for both girls this worked well during the early days when they needed some way to soothe themselves but I didn’t want to feed or rock to sleep. Of course, there were plenty of times when the girls were little when I would end up holding them to extend a short nap or let them fall asleep on my chest or in the car seat. I’m just saying this as a general rule of thumb, aiming for at least a couple naps each day in their crib.

Around 10 weeks (8 weeks with Ainsley) we dropped the swaddle and the paci at the same time cold turkey. It made for a rough couple days with both girls, short naps and more night wakings, but it was well worth the effort in the end. We transitioned Ainsley into a Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit after the swaddle, but that’s not approved for when they can roll, so with Collins we decided to go straight to the Zipadee-Zip and it worked like a charm. Plus, that’s one less thing to worry about transitioning out of since they can wear it until they are much older.

Cry-It-Out //
Eventually, with both girls, we did have to do small amounts of controlled crying to work through some sleep issues. It’s my personal belief that “self soothing” isn’t possible until babies are actually able to soothe themselves by intentionally bringing their hands to their mouth, moving around in their crib, etc. Others probably have different opinions on the topic, and that’s okay! To me, it just didn’t make sense to leave a small baby, swaddled and unable to do anything to “soothe” themselves, left to cry for any extended period of time.

Once Ainsley and Collins were transitioned out of the swaddle and could bring their hands to their mouth and move around in their cribs to find a comfy spot I felt more comfortable allowing them to cry in intervals of 5 to 15 minutes.

So, if I knew that baby was fed, changed, and tired, I would give them some time to work it out on their own. I would pick a time interval that felt comfortable for me, 5 minutes when they were on the younger side, and eventually longer as I got to know them and their patterns and needs more. If they were still crying after the set interval, I would go in and verbally soothe or pat baby on the tummy for 30 seconds and then leave and start the interval process again. Rinse and repeat until sleep happened. With Ainsley’s strong-willed personality it took more intervals that Collins who was an easier baby to sleep train, at least up to this point.

Night Time Sleep // Feeding Before Bed
Prior to working with a sleep consultant, our bed time routine was bath, jammies, book, bottle and bed. It was the only time of day when we fed a bottle right before sleeping. When we worked with our sleep consultant, she strongly recommended we mix up the routine so we weren’t feeding right before bed to prevent the eat to sleep association from forming.

Now (at 4 months) we aim for Collins to be awake at least 2 hours before bed time. About 30 minutes before bed time we give her the bed time bottle, followed by her bath, jammies/Zipadee, reading a book and prayers. Then we lay her down in her crib awake, kiss her on her forehead and say “Have a good night! Love you!” turn off the lights, turn on the sound machine and close the door. At this point she rarely cries at bed time but will fuss and wriggle around a bit and fall asleep.

Practice Makes Perfect //
Really, there is no magic to getting your baby to sleep easily and independently in their crib. It’s really just a matter of practice. Consistently putting baby down in their crib awake and allowing them to be comfortable with putting themselves to sleep, getting comfortable and familiar in their crib and room, etc. Like anything with kids, I’ve found it takes consistency and time.

I’m sure I’ll get some questions about WHY it matters to us that our kiddos go to sleep easily in their crib. Joe and I really want to prioritize our marriage and make sure we can still get away on date nights, weekend trips, etc. And for me, it’s much easier to leave the girls with babysitters and family if they are predictable and their sleep routine is easy for others to replicate – both for baby’s sake and for the sake of those who are caring for them. Plus, like I said earlier, restful sleep is a gift for everyone in our family when we can make it happen.

Like I said earlier, I’m not the expert on this subject. I recommend reading Babywise first, then seeking out resources like this amazing and thorough blog as well as the Babywise Moms Facebook Page for extra support!

**Affiliate links used when applicable