May Mayhem

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If you’re reading this blog post, congratulations, you’ve survived. You’ve made it to the final day of May. And you did so without mentioning to those of us a bit inexperienced, that the month of May is complete mayhem. Thanks for the heads up! I thought this was a sisterhood, not a conspiracy!

I was thinking back to previous May’s and trying to understand why this year was different. I suppose it’s because there was a quieter, calmer time in my life before children. I also suppose it’s because said children are just now ramping up with all this school junk. And the school, the existing year and approaching year they start bugging you about around this time definitely play a role in the insanity. Don’t they know I’m planning summer things? It starts with teacher appreciation days, followed by class parties, which usher in the ceremonies and graduations … It was Pre-K graduation for us. Charlotte wore a shiny turquoise cap and gown and walked to the tune of an early 90’s contemporary Christian song, that I imagined was playing by cassette tape on an old boom box under the stage.

Oh my heart, it was darling.

Back to summer things. While my alter ego was taking care of all of the above, I’ve got a vacation to plan, man. Oh, and the girls birthday’s that conveniently fall at the end of May and mid-July (talks herself out of a joint party again because she’s a slow learner.) And did I mention we’re getting a puppy? And that potty training part deux has begun? Swim lesson registration, Kindergarten orientation and oh my God, what are the girls going to do all summer long?

The month of May is insane and I honestly never realized it. Tonight, I scrambled eggs for the girls’ dinner and served myself a cheese stick and a cold brew coffee before falling face first over the finish line. Lucky for me, my middle finger made it.

We did it. We got through it, and now we can enjoy the popsicles, pool-time, ice-cream, flip flops and sunshine June promises us. This summer, don’t forget the margin. Take the vacation, read the books and mindless magazines, get a tan but not too much, only say yes to what refills your soul and enjoy your hard-earned summer.

 

Charlotte’s Corner – Ch. 2

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“Mom, when I was a baby, I used to drink milk out of your boobs.”

Me: (remembering this historical event vividly), “Yep.”

Charlotte: (excitedly), “When I grow up, and get married, and have a baby, I’ll probably feed her milk from my boobs too. But not now, I still just have tiny nipples.”

How Gilmore Girls Helped Me Reach my New Year’s Resolution

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Once again, we find ourselves in another new year – wondering how we got here so quickly. It’s so true what they say – that time flies faster as you grow older. With every new month that arrives, it comes and goes with its themes and events and often reminds us of old memories, stays around long enough to create new ones, but most of all – passes us by too soon. November of course is Thanksgiving, a time of friends and families and thankfulness, jackets and knee-high boots if you’re lucky. More importantly, it ushers in December – a time of magical Christmas joy and abundant love. When January arrives, it marks a fresh start for many, a do-over, an ambition surge, goal-setting, and the occasional “New Year’s resolutions are dumb” sort of nay-sayers.

For me, it is a fresh start. It’s not that I don’t initiate my “re-do’s” all throughout the year – “Mondays,” for example, “new seasons,” etc. – but January is the time you look back on the previous year and set out to do even better. Improved spiritual life, healthier, better wife, better mom, etc. But then again, these are just the topics of my day-to-day uphill climb. Of course I’m striving to improve in all areas of my life most days, I don’t need a new year to boss me around.

Last year was probably the most rewarding as far as New Year’s resolutions were concerned. The secret I think, is to focus on things you’d like to do that are simple and not so serious. Sure we’ll all work to self-improve for our own well-being, families and those around us. But what if we stop writing all that down? What if we strive for those things daily through simply trying our best, but decide at each new year to create higher life margin and set fun but life-giving  goals? Our to-do list owns us every other day. Let this list be a dreamer’s list. Things that won’t make you feel like a failure if you don’t get to them, things that will make you smile or laugh, things that will pour back into your own heart, which is overflowing for others by the simple act of living your life.

For me, my 2016 goals were all self-served (see note above about striving to be a better Christian, wife and mom day in and day out.) In no particular order, (Gilmore Girls was for sure #1), my 2016 resolutions were as follows:

  • Binge watch Gilmore Girls
  • Start a blog
  • Return to hot-yoga for my aches and pains, stress and posture
  • Read at least a few of my books collecting dust on my nightstand

I am here to tell you that in 2016, I killed it. Not only did I binge watch all 8 seasons of Gilmore Girls + a revival I couldn’t have known would exist at the time of creating said goal, these words on this page are living proof of my aspiration to start writing again, I’m doing yoga 1-2 evenings a week and I read some great books last year: #ForTheLove, #BreadandWine, #ColdTangerines.

Surprisingly, I don’t have time for any of these things. There is never enough time in the day and the tasks will always own you. Carving out more margin in your own life will be the key to your success. All of these resolutions were so good for my soul, I’m looking forward to another fresh start. Another journey to being a better me. Assigning myself meaningful “spare time.”

I’m still mulling over my  2017 dreamer’s list, but would like to ramp up my writing – blogging more frequently. Netflix had me at hello. Finishing up some partial reads from last year are a must, but I’d like to challenge myself to read at least one of the”harder” books I’ve been putting off for my leisure reads.

Taking time for just what you want to do will help you be the superstar of your New Year’s resolutions past. Take ownership, and assign yourself some nonsense.

What are your life-giving assignments for this year?

 

 

 

 

As for me and my house, we will Pumpkin Spice.

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I don’t normally partake in controversial issues. Especially these days amidst global volatility, an insane election and various tensions occurring on American soil. But one particular issue, I simply will not stand for. In my deepest roots, the core of who I am, I will not stand for the pumpkin spice strikes and anti-pumpkinators that are on the uprise.

It all started a few years back with what I like to call Pumpkingate. The Starbucks scandal that resulted in some of the worst press they had ever received. The scandal included SpiciLeaks that exploited the artificial ingredients included in their beloved “PSL.” It wasn’t long after this breaking news that we started to see a cultural shift. Bitterness formed. Injustice reared its ugly head, as if all pumpkin spice treats were created equal. If Starbucks could serve us such processed crap, then I mustn’t ever bake another pie until I can grow my own fields of pumpkin! Sure, it was Aug. 30th or a bit earlier when our pump-kin started to show its face, but I ask you one question:

What did Pumpkin Spice ever do to you?

Living but not born and raised in Houston, Texas – the flavors of fall are some of the only things we can aspire to, cling to. When it’s football opening weekend, fall-fashion swarms the stores and school is back in session, we’re still not-so-chilling in 90 degrees. Loathing the heat. Sweating on the field. Sending our kids to the first day of school in flip-flops. But there are a few things to be joyful about. For starters, most of the country is soon to be a frozen, unproductive tundra and we’ll alas be getting our outdoor enjoyment – celebrating cooler temps that start in the 80’s but bring relief, then 70s, on down to an approximate coldest temperature range of low to mid 40’s all winter long. We’ll be a little hot at first in knee-high boots and flannel tunics, but we’ll do it anyway. The hipsters will be especially toasty in their wooly beanies, scarves and excessive layers, but there’s no judgment here. Why? Because there is something that unites us with one another. The hipsters, the Houstonites and the rest of the orange and golden leaved states.

Pumpkin.

Spice.

I like to think of pumpkin spice first and foremost in the form of a latte. A close tie for second would be any sort of muffin, pastry or loaf. Soon, I’ll start to throw a little canned pumpkin and pumpkin spice in my Saturday morning pancake batter, or dust a golden slice of french toast. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll dash some p.spice in my morning protein shake. The possibilities are endless.

But pumpkin spice is so much more than literal. You can’t hate on pumpkin spice and have a love affair with pumpkin ales, pumpkin whits, pumpkin ciders. Don’t even talk to me if you’ll crack open an icy cold Oktoberfest but cringe at my latte and its early arrival. Our spicy friend is symbolic of what’s to come. The debut of pumpkin spice brings hope to southern sweltering states. It warms the souls of those experiencing a true and crisp fall. It is the master of ceremonies for holiday bliss – ushering in Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. First comes pumpkin spice, then the caramely apples, S’mores, chili’s, fall beers and cocktails. Soon, pumpkin spice will peak in its Thanksgiving pie or dump cake. It will be shoveled into over-stuffed bellies and settle in among Thanksgiving feast and leftovers. Finally, it will gracefully step-down to its Christmas successor, Peppermint. On mocha’s, on white chocolate pretzels and candy canes.

So again, I ask you. What did Pumpkin Spice ever do to you? Is it the villain or victim here?

Bringing joy to millions who are unbiased to timelines – guilty as charged.

Delicious and indulgent? Guilty.

Cozy, symbolic and and good for the soul? Guilty on all accounts.

Let us not join the revolt, but defeat them. Say yes to pumpkin spice, even if it sprouts early.

Make fall great again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Momma

 

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Every night, there is at least one moment that I intentionally focus on in effort to preserve that memory and never forget.

The girls are growing so fast, and I don’t ever want to look back and feel that I didn’t get enough of them in each and every stage. I snatch all the hugs and kisses I want, squeeze them tight before bed, breathe in their baby hair and soft skin – it’s all my favorite. I’ve heard people say that they’re not “little kid moms” or the opposite, “big kid moms.” I can’t speak from experience about whether or not I’m a “big kid mom,” but I certainly love being a”little kid mom.”

It’s hard, sure. Some days you think you’ll never stop sweeping 13 pounds of peas off the floor, or waiting on them hand and foot (really, you can’t take care of yourself yet?) But generally speaking, I really do love it. I long for their earlier infancy stages already – even though I was averaging 7.5 minutes of sleep per night and couldn’t wait to pass the baby off after those tender breastfeeding moments where I just wanted to scream like a crazy claustrophobic – GET IT OFF OF ME, LET ME OUT OF HERE, SOMEBODY, QUICK! TAKE THE BABY!

Motherhood has been a journey and the greatest gift I have ever been given. I love my girls more than I ever thought possible, more than I knew I was even capable of. It’s a love that doesn’t even exist until you have children and the capacity of love is revealed to you. And while there is no book or advice that could ever prepare one for motherhood – Here are a few of my top realizations learned along this journey.

Five Realizations of a New Mom.

  • Many people around you whom you used to like, become less likeable through the competition you never knew existed: your child(ren) vs. their child(ren), your parenting technique vs. their technique, their post-baby body progress vs. your progress (Pass the ice-cream please!)
  • Your own parents get really good at saying “You turned out ok didn’t ya?” as their perfect rebuttal to anything that has evolved in the last 30 years (namely, car safety.) The practically sleepover-style nest in the hatchback of a Buick station wagon or van with curtains just won’t cut it anymore.)
  • Your children bring a whole new meaning to “Mini-Me.” Sending to time-out again for mouthing off? Internally rolling your eyes at their 2-second attention span and supreme impatience? Huffing and puffing and rolling their eyes at only 4 years old? Yeah … there are only so many times you can say “They did NOT get that from me!”
  • You’ll find that your broom will become your third leg, unless of course you’re lucky enough to have a dog that snarfs up the under-the-table scraps. And don’t worry, nobody is judging you for having a much cleaner, dog-saliva slicked floor.
  • Being quick on your feet and coming up with ingenious new strategies to manipulate your children becomes life’s greatest and most amusing challenge: “First one to get their pajama’s on, WINS!” “First one to get in their bed, WINS!”

Motherhood is the most serious/not-serious thing I have ever done, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. From life’s teachable moments the tiny tyrants are discovering each and every day, to the teasing and laughter and times you just can’t take too seriously, the key to a happy home and overflowing cup is 2 parts parenting, 1 part friendship and lots of love.

 

Surviving Weeknight Meals

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Meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking week night meals can be exhausting amidst a jam packed schedule. The planning part is so important. If you’re like me, you like to cook. The rest of you, may not. Either way – we don’t really have a choice in the matter because you know, Parenting 101.

In our household, we’re both out of the house by 6:30 a.m. and crossing the finish line at 5:30 p.m. / 6 p.m. Kids go to bed at “8 p.m.,” every other night there is a bath in there if we’re really on our game, so the overall time table is tight. Dinner has to be fast, but it also has to be enjoyable (see last week’s love affair with food post). While I love the whole Sunday meal prepping thing and homey casseroles, our favorites are too heavy and fattening to rely on regularly. You know the drill – a casserole without pasta, potatoes or cheese gets a little lame. Having said that, I’m pretty keen on a handful of recipes that we’re able to pull off quickly, so I thought I would share them here! Feel free to leave a comment if you try anything, and let me know what you think.

Buffalo Chicken Sliders

Yields 4 servings / 2 sliders per serving
  • 1 lb of ground chicken breast
  • Whole wheat slider buns
  • Franks Red Hot Buffalo sauce (the BEST)
  • Seasonings: dill, chives, garlic, salt & pepper (these are Ranch packet like ingredients)
  • Ranch  or Blue Cheese for topping

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, season ground chicken lightly with salt & pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of dill and 1 tablespoon of chives. Add 1/4 cup of Franks Red Hot and mix. With a large mixing spoon, make slider patties by starting with the mixing spoon and scooping up a large meatball sized ball of meat. Pat down to patty. Don’t worry about the meat being sticky, it’s chicken, so it’s very tender and not as robust as beef.

Pan fry patties in a non-stick skillet with just a touch of olive oil. Use cooking spray for other pans. Cook 3-4 mins each side until opaque white all the way through. Serve on whole wheat buns, topped with an extra drizzle of Franks and a dollop of your favorite dressing – low fat Ranch keeps it lower calorie.

Teriyaki Chicken Stirfry

If you live in Texas and you have an H-E-B, they have these wonderful stir-fry bags of fresh vegetables in the produce aisle where you buy salsa and guacamole. There is a bag of fresh mixed stirfry vegetables and a packet of sauce is included.

For everyone else, I’d recommend a fresh of steam-bag of broccoli already cut and cleaned, 1 cup of snow peas, 1 carrot sliced into thin diagonal discs, red peppers if you like them.

Yields 4 servings, serving size about 2 cups of meat & veggies
  • 1 bag of stir fry veggies (fresh, not frozen) from HEB
    • OR- 1 bag of broccoli + 1 carrot sliced + 1 cup of snow peas and diced red peppers and jar of Terryaki sauce
  • 1 pack of sliced boneless, skinless chicken tenders
  • 2 packs of brown basmati minute rice

Instructions:

Cut chicken tenders into chunks and pan fry in a non-stick skillet with a little salt & pepper. Once white, throw in veggies and toss / cook until softened and bright colored. Add in your sauce packet or 1/2 cup of terryaki. Stirfry until chicken is all the way cooked and your veggies are tender.

Serve over 1/2 cup of brown basmati minute rice per serving.

Summer Salad

I’m loving this salad for my lunches, but it’d work well as a side for a summer grill-out or any weeknight meal.

  • 1 bag of baby spinach / spring mix
  • Oceanspray reduced sugar dried cranberries
  • Walnuts
  • Feta Cheese
  • Strawberries or blueberries or both
  • Fruit vinaigrette or homemade balsamic

Instructions:

In a bowl, throw in all the salad, 3 tablespoons of dried cranberries, 3 tablespoons of feta, 4 tablespoons of toasted walnuts (toast on a baking sheet until fragrant. watch closely because burnt nuts are extremely bitter). Cookwell company makes an excellent Watermelon Vinaigrette but this might be regional – use your favorite Raspberry vinaigrette as replacement. For homemade dressing, splurge on a good Balsamic vinegar. Mix 3 parts vinegar to olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon, a teaspoon of honey and salt & pepper.

In all scenarios, for a family sized bowl of salad I’d start with 2 tablespoons of dressing, toss to coat and add more if needed.

Top with thinly sliced strawberries and a handful of blueberries – approximately 1.5 cups of fresh fruit.

Grilled Pork Chops and Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

Yields 4 servings, 1 pork chop and a cup of wedges per person

  • Pork chops (we buy the lean, half-inch thick pork chops which come 4 to a pack)
  • 2 Sweet Potaoes (by longer ones for easier cutting)

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 450. Season pork chops with a BBQ blend seasoning. Have your husband or whomever start the grill while you start slicing sweet potatoes length wise. Flip each half potato / flat side down. Continue to slice each half into wedges. Throw pork chops on the grill and cook, basting at the end with your favorite BBQ sauce. Layout sweet potato wedges evenly on a cooking sprayed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil & sea salt and bake for 10 minutes before flipping for a total of 20 to 25 minutes or until edges start to get crispy. The potatoes will be soft but with crisped skin holding them in one piece.

 Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

The journey of a self-proclaimed foodie

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I guess you could say I’ve always loved food. My grandpa Gulick used to enjoy cooking for me when I was little because I wasn’t a picky child, a unique quality among the gaggle of finicky grandchildren. I still remember his stir-fry, meatballs and the baskets of hard rolls that he knew I needed to have as the perfect accompaniment to any meal. In fact, I think it was grandpa that first affectionately referred to me as a “dough-belly.” That was of course before I actually had one, so the reference was a lot more cute.

When I take a minute to stroll down memory lane, there are definitely meals and recipes that stand out from my childhood. In our own household, the first meal that comes to mind is one that my brother and I joke about now. Upon bugging my mom yet again about “what’s for dinner,” it seemed like at least once a week we’d get the response “egg sandwiches?” in a questioning tone. This makes me laugh now that I’m an adult, because egg sandwiches scream “5-minute, cheap, filling, pseudo-healthy and entirely unplanned meal.” She was a momma in survival mode, a feeling I now know all too well. She still had some sophisticated meals up her sleeve, pork cutlets and mashed potatoes or steak sandwiches on flour dusted potato rolls, just to name a few. Sirloin shish kabobs with a side of plump, Iowa sweet corn draped in butter is a stand-out meal because it screamed summer. We had a pool at my first childhood home and would have large family luaus, and I remember shish kabobs being a luau staple. There are other extended family meals or recipes that come to mind- Great grandma Pat’s spicy spaghetti, death-by-sugar sweet potato casserole or homestyle chicken noodle soup, grandma Charlene’s fried turkey and sugary ham during the holidays, aunt Belinda’s homemade tortillas and casserole dishes chocked full of smoky enchiladas, aunt Pat’s broccoli rice casserole for Thanksgiving – the list goes on. I love these memories of food and love even more the recipes that have been passed down and continue to live on.

In high-school, I had the metabolism of a rock star and like many high-schoolers, discovered junk food and ate plenty of it between extracurricular activities. For me, that was dance practice, and what better fuel for my lean dancers body than Taco John’s meat and potato burrito or Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich?

My first quality food experiences started in high-school though as well, mostly for special occasions like homecoming dinners and such. Tucked away on the South side of Des Moines, there is a dimly lit, low-ceiling Italian joint with an awkward floor plan called Barattas. It’s one of the first nice places I can remember eating. Spicy, velvety pepper cheese soup, oven-fired pizzas with homemade sausage, blackened cajun chicken with a side of buttery parmesan alfredo, and the mozzarella sticks … fresh curds of mozzarella breaded in a chunky batter and fried to a deep, golden brown. All things that I crave today, more than a decade later, and all the way from Texas.

College food memories don’t go much further than ramen, EZ mac or Pizza Ranch cheesey bread that my roommate and I would split for dinner for a whole $5. Subway was a truly anticipated treat for an occasional splurge meal outside of on-campus dining. I was a naive, picky American during my abroad studies, and I hate myself for not immersing more in the Spanish food culture. Though, I did have my fair share of chicken paella, churros con chocolate, spanish coffees and hollowed out baguettes with olive oil or crushed tomato for breakfasts.

It was after college and entering the career world where I really started to my love affair with food. By this time, I was in Texas and when they say everything is bigger in Texas, that includes your appetite and growing physique. This state is unbelievably serious about food. The best Tex-Mex you never knew you were missing- limey, perfectly seared beef enveloped in scratch-made tortillas, warmed salsa and fresh guacamole, Texas BBQ- charred moist brisket, caramelized sausages and creamy potato salad with a loaf of Sunbeam Texas toast on the side, not to mention an entire world of International cuisine that you quickly can’t get enough of – Mediterranean, Persian, Colombian, Indian, Thai – the list goes on.

Through my work travels, I’ve wined and dined quite a bit. The more great food I’ve eaten, the more inclined I became to cook. I spent weeks in Florence, Italy where I was awestruck by the simplicity of Italian cooking. Always fresh, always fabulous and likely five ingredients or less.

By now, one of my most favorite past times is to cook. I love to dig up old family recipes to share with my family, discovering new recipes and always going off the map a little bit. My chef’s tips? Never measure vanilla, add a pat of butter always to the end of your sauce, get to know your holy trinity/mirepoix/sofrito or, the 3-5 basic ingredients that serve as a foundation of hundreds of great recipes, less is more unless you’re adventurously cooking cuisine that revels in complicated spice and flavor profiles, and always try something new!

I’m pretty confident in how my cooking skills and successes have evolved through the years and can’t help but think that grandpa Gulick would beam with pride, if only he could have a seat at my table.

I heard the best quote recently relating to food:

“There are two kinds of people in this world, those who wake up thinking about dinner and those who don’t.”

I most certainly am the first of these people, and consider food to be one of my primary love languages.

Make sure to check in next week, where I’ll share with you some survival meals for the week and date night specialties.