Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This One Moment

(this post contains affiliate links)
You guys. This month is slaying me. Slowly but surely. Yesterday as I was finishing teaching a lesson, I suddenly couldn't even stand up. I propped myself up on a stool and leaned like the Leaning Tower of Exhausted Mom Pisa.

It's not just one thing. It's all the small things jumbled together that somehow make one big ginormous thing that represents my current schedule with no breaks to take a breath or think complete thoughts or fold my laundry.

(Be a working mom...they said....it will be fun....they said...LOL)

On top of my physically demanding schedule, there's the emotional toll of just so much going on all around me. Stories that aren't mine to tell. But very real stories that wrap themselves around my heart and squeeze in painful ways. I know I am an empath. I know I feel deeply. This is a blessing and a curse. Somedays I just can't take the emotional weight of how complicated life has gotten.

(Be an adult....they said....it will be fun....they said...LOL)

I can feel the weight of the world pressing down on my shoulders and at times I just can't breathe.

The last week has been especially bad. I felt like I was clawing through the busy to try to get to "Be Still And Know That I Am God". I felt like I was wading through oceans of schedule to get to the moments of quiet reflection. And I couldn't.get.there.

No matter how I tried to calm my thoughts, they refused to untangle.

Until Sunday. When I was sitting in church, and I looked over and saw Addison bent over a piece of paper with her perfect pen hold and furrowed brow and her name printed in such a beautiful, controlled, mature handwriting. Within an instant the cloud around me disappeared. (I posted about this on IG.) The celebration of that moment stole my entire concentration. She wrote her name the most perfectly that she ever has.

It was beautiful! "Addison". Like a pro! Look at my girl go! My heart pumped with wild pride and tears dotted the corners of my eyes.
For the first time in days, my thoughts focused only on this one thing. This moment of joy, of light, chased out all the dark.

This happened again this morning. She came in to wake me up (as she does. Ha!). The minute my eyes popped open, my mind flooded with all the things. Addison sat calmly on my pillow and stroked my hair as she started to talk to me.

At first she wanted to know if she was going to school today. This evolved into asking about after school which evolved into discussing that she rides the bus home on Tuesdays. I asked her how she liked riding the bus and she nodded shyly and said that she did. And then she volunteered, "It is bumpy."

Wait a second. SHE JUST VOLUNTEERED DETAILS ABOUT AN EXPERIENCE SHE HAD. This is huge for her, and it is a rare occurrence. She didn't have to be prompted. She didn't have to be cued or quizzed. She just...said it.

As I got up for the day with now a smile on my face, I couldn't stop musing over how cool that was.

And as thing on top of thing stacked on top of today, I couldn't let go of the thought that maybe Addison is in my life to be a reminder from God to "Be Still And Know". Maybe part of her disability and design is intrinsic to focusing in on his creation of beautiful moments that make up the complicated big picture. Maybe one of her gifts is to untangle the confused world around her and remind us of the miracle of the moment in front of us. To be still.

The way she twirled in front of the mirror this morning, admiring her outfit with such a shy smile on her face, her eyes twinkling.

The way she took charge last night and watched over Morgan (newly sleeping in her room) and fell asleep with her face pressed against Morgan's Pack 'n Play, watching over her sister with such diligence. (She says that she is the teacher and is IN CHARGE and will make sure the baby BEHAVES.)

The way she smiles at me.

The way she practices her dance moves for an upcoming concert at school, biting her lip in concentration and spinning on those tiny feet like she was born to do it. Hair flowing behind her.

The way Morgan woke up crying way too early this morning and when I went in there, Addison had already woken up too and was reading Morgan a book in an attempt to calm her. The page she was reading apparently said, "Don't cry baby." (-;

Addison has a way of pulling scattered attention right to the now, transcending all the things swirling around causing angst and trouble and making them temporarily cease while we admire her "now".

In drawing us in, she helps us be still and in that now, remember the amazing God who created not only her and us and the beautiful "now", but also the troubles pressing down on our shoulders. Not only did he create these troubles, he provided the strength to fight through them. The patience to persevere. The joy to push on. The hope of eternal life.

Sometimes Down syndrome is the easiest thing about life. (I once thought that no problem would ever be bigger than her diagnosis. I was wrong.) And sometimes...Down syndrome provides a window to a new view I hadn't considered before. A view I really really needed but didn't even think to ask for.

Sometimes this view narrows ALL THE THINGS to the one breathtaking moment in front of me that I would have otherwise missed.

Grateful.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-7




Friday, December 8, 2017

My Approach to Menu Planning

(Because they need to eat EVERY day...apparently.)

This post contains some affiliate links.

It's no secret that I love to cook, and I also love to share snippets of whatever is currently in my kitchen on my InstaStories (user name: eanfe). Lately I've been getting dumped with questions about recipes, about my menu planning, and about my overall approach to feeding the family, so I thought I would put together as much as I could in one post to reference each time I get asked. (-;
 (random picture of a cake I made because it turns out all my other food pics were on IG stories only. Ha!)

Disclaimer: if you're looking for formal menus, grocery lists, and an organized step-by-step plan, this is NOT that post. If that's what you want, I would recommend my friend Jessica! She has an amazing collection of meal plans, and I highly recommend them! You can find a link to her meal plans by clicking the image below:
Month of Meals Meal Plans

If you want the real deal thing (from someone who definitely stores food pics in other places than an erasable IG story)...go to her! Jessica is an amazing resource for all things food.

The purpose of this post is merely to share and answer IG questions on my current, haphazard plan that I use to feed the masses of children that come bubbling up around my ankles three times a day demanding to be fed. #livingthedream

So with that disclaimer aside...

I usually cook from scratch 3-4 full dinners a week, Every Saturday night we eat dinner at Aaron's parent's house, and the other 2-3 dinners are usually faster (cheat) meals, possibly takeout, considering what my work schedule is that day.  (For example, I LOVE Costco's made ahead stuffed peppers. Stuff like this I consider my cheat meal as it requires no prep work on my part.) I found that for this phase of life I need these cheat days, and I find no guilt there.

So for my "3-4 full dinners" a week, I usually pick something from each of these categories listed below. (Plus homemade applesauce if I have some handy.) I promise my meals look fancier on IG stories than they actually are. I follow this formula pretty consistently, and it's only the variety within my categories that keep this from getting stale. (So far).

I mix and match the combos, picking one thing from each category, depending what I have on hand and how I want the overall meal vibe to be. Some of the proteins require no bread or rice (such as tacos or the sausage tortellini), so I stay very flexible from day to day, always trying to hit the veggie category at least once. (-;

Also, I mentioned once (and got a lot of questions) about my "monthly" menu. This is what that looks like. This list of meals, combined with our cheat meals, makes up 1 month. I wouldn't call this a rut, but these are all meals that my kids love, and I can have a basic set of ingredients on hand and be able to make several of these meals at all times even if there's "nothing  to eat" in the house the day before grocery shopping. It also helps me buy stuff on sale as I know exactly what it takes to feed the fam for a month, and I can wait for the low price and then scoop up a lot of it.

I will throw new recipes in the mix and try different veggie roasting combos and mix stuff up as I am able, but this is my menu framework, and as been for a while.

What can I say. I'm in survival mode.

Warning: this list is not fancy or exotic. It doesn't follow any trendy eating plans (such as Whole 30 or Paleo). And our family has no current food allergies, so it doesn't make allowance for that.

These meals are the result of just a girl...standing in front of her four children...begging them to eat...and finding moderate success.

So on the off chance that you find this helpful, or catch a few ideas to add to your own menu framework....here we go.

Categories:
 (everything is linked to the recipe if you click on it. If there is no link it means I couldn't find the recipe online.)

1. Bread

      A. Sweet Potato Muffins (I substitute maple syrup for the sugar...and less than is called for. And I
sprinkle with oats before baking. Also, if you throw your sweet potatoes in a small crockpot in
the AM, they are ready to make into muffins by lunch time.)
      B. Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (I add in an extra banana and mini chocolate chips...this entraps        
Addison)
      C. Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins (this will make your house smell like fall)
      D. Blueberry Muffins (once again I sweeten with maple syrup and load full of extra blueberries)
       
 The muffin of the day is the kids' motivation to finish the other categories. They can't have a muffin until their other food is eaten. And I do switch it up with homemade rolls and bread sometimes.

2. Veggie

   A. Steamfresh Veggie
   B. Sliced Cucumbers and baby carrots
   C. Caesar Salad

Yes, we are super boring veggie eaters. I just don't have time to dress it up and present it on a fancy platter. I sneak veggies into the other dishes whenever possible (I have been known to throw spinach into even chili because I know it will blend right in and they'll never know it's there) but I always have the "boring" side as well since that's the way they'll eat it best.

3. Rice

   A. Plain Rice cooked with chicken bouillon
   B. Flavored Rice Mix

Call Master Chef. Tell them about this super fancy rice plan. I'll just sit back and wait for their call. (-;

4. Protein

   A. Beef
     
       1. Beef Roast (smothered in minced garlic, black pepper, seasoned salt...roast at 400)

       2. Pioneer Woman Sloppy Joe Nachos (Yes, she makes them as sandwiches but we serve the meat over nachos and top with gobs of Monterey jack cheese.)
 
       3. Beef Stroganoff (crockpot) I wish I had a recipe to share, but honestly I make up my own and have never written it down.
     
       4. Crockpot Beef and Broccoli
     
       5. Million Dollar Baked Spaghetti (Make Ahead) (Fair warning. This one is a million calories as well. But worth it if you want a serious comfort food meal.)
     
       6. Tacos
     
       7. Chili in crockpot (Will often use leftover PW Sloppy Joe Nachos meat in this). Sorry...also no      
recipe on this one but I serve topped with avocado and cheese.
     

   B. Chicken
       1. Buttermilk Chicken (this recipe is amazing. I've also done it with a roast chicken and it turned
out great as well.)
     
       2. Chicken and Salsa ( and sometimes black beans) in the crockpot (add taco seasoning and a tiny bit of water and BAM. I throw in these chicken breasts completely frozen in the morning. I
serve shredded salsa chicken over rice by dinnertime.)
     
       3. Chicken Enchiladas (make ahead) I love that this recipe doesn't call for condensed soup. It is all from scratch and the sauce is AMAZING. And if I don't have a lot of chicken to work with, I add in some black beans.)
     
       4. Southwest Chicken Bean Burritos Sorry no recipe! This is a favorite though. Think a combo of  
chili powder, hot sauce, cumin, garlic, and...wait for it...barbecue sauce. Also served over chips in a sort of nacho situation.
     
       5. Honey Balsamic Sheet Pan Chicken
   
       6. Baked Sesame Chicken (make ahead or crockpot) Fair warning, the amount of sugar in this  "copycat Chinese recipe" might freak you out. But I learned the hard way, all that vinegar
requires the sugar to balance it out or else it is NOT GOOD. Ask me how I know. (-;
 
       7. Salsa Peanut Butter Spaghetti. I realize this sounds weird, but this is also very tasty. Think soy
sauce/garlic/ginger mixed with peanut butter and salsa and green onions.
 
       8. Caesar Salad topped with Grilled, Italian Season Marinated Chicken Breasts (Oh there's a whole grilled post I could do too. This is the one grilled thing that lasts year round here.)
 
       9. Cleveland Chicken (make ahead) This recipe is from Aaron's grandma. Basically it is cut up raw     chicken, sprinkled with lemon pepper and garlic powder, covered with a mixture of chicken
condensed soup/sour cream, topped with ritz crackers mixed with melted butter...bake for 1
hour...serve over rice. This is Carter's FAVORITE meal ever. Not the healthiest option here,
but we hold onto this one for  comfort food nights.

   C.  Pork
       1. Italian Sausage Tortellini You might look at this list of ingredients and think this will just be so so. Not so, my friend. Not so. The taste in this will BLOW YOU AWAY. (dramatic much?)

       2. Slow Cooked Pulled Pork (crockpot) This was one of my most requested ones from IG. I am in love with my crockpot, and this recipe never lets me down.

       3. Pork Loin (smothered in minced garlic, black pepper, seasoned salt...Roast at 400)

       4. BBQ Pork Chops The recipe calls for grilled, but I bake this and make it year round. This is one
of Addison's favorites!
     
   D. Meatless
       1. Baked Macaroni and Cheese (make ahead and also sometimes I do this in the crockpot)

       2. Broccoli Cheddar Soup (I love pairing this with ham sliders on homemade rolls on the rare
occasion that I do a big ham and have leftovers.

       3. Tortilla Pizzas (pizzas made on top of regular tortilla shells) Seriously can't stop talking about
this. #pizzalover

       4. Fried Rice (great for using leftover meats from the above category if I want to add meat back in)

       5. Spaghetti (this doubles as a cheat meal)

So there you have it. All my secrets. You'll notice a lot of crockpot meals and make ahead dishes. No shame in my game! With my work load doubling this year, this has been so so helpful for prepping the kids dinners even though I might not always be there to serve it to them.

So now...what is your go-to favorite recipe? Can you share the link with me? Might be time for me to mix stuff up slightly....I love my list but it is nice to switch stuff out and in as the mood dictates!

And for those of you with the questions on IG....does this help???? If all else fails, I just made my own resource for when I am sitting down with the grocery list and can't remember a SINGLE MEAL. Ha!

Anyway, hope you all have a great weekend! Mom out...the laundry is calling my name. (-;

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Take 2: The Cure For Down Syndrome

(this post contains affiliate links)
Yesterday I did something that I never do.

I unpublished a post.

Did I regret what I said? Did I take it back?

No.

The truth is, the post I published yesterday wasn't angry enough.

I spent days crafting yesterday's blogpost. I heard about the scientists working on the cure for Down syndrome, and I worked hard to tackle this subject objectively.

I walked us through this process yesterday. Were there any pros? What were the cons?

I wanted to report the facts not only as I see them, but in a way that wouldn't offend while allowing room for other opinions on the subject.

And so my polite (and wordy) post tripped all the way through my experience with Down syndrome, Addison's uniqueness due to her extra chromosomes, and ended up somewhere comparing this "cure" to a machine that turns delectable, gorgeous sculptures of chocolate into plain pieces of bread.

Immediately after publishing it, something was bothering me. I had to go teach, so I didn't have time to dissect why. I just knew it wasn't right.

So I unpublished it.

It was while driving to work that it hit me.

The post wasn't angry enough.

If you know me at all, "angry" is not something I normally associate with my posts. But I really believe that this one requires it.

I don't care if this offends you. I know there are no doubt differing opinions to my own. This post is no doubt going to get me into trouble. Don't care.

I have to say it.

Hearing that they are working on a cure for Down syndrome makes me angry.

I am tired of society treating Down syndrome like a disease to be eradicated. I am tired of "progress" looking a lot like a Hitleresque mindset. ("Let's get rid of the imperfections!!! Extra chromosome! Here's an injection for you to take to make you more like us!")

No. No. NO.

I am tired of people twisting and turning Down syndrome until it resembles something politely grotesque that they will "like" a picture but then leave a nasty anonymous comment. I am tired of the pity. Of the "Poor POOR you". I am tired of the fear of Down syndrome. I am tired of reading every comment section ever under a Down syndrome news piece and feeling like all of human kind secretly feels that the world would be better off without Down syndrome.

I am freaking exhausted of this overriding theme.

Because this theme? Is nothing more than ignorance.

I used to be ignorant about Down syndrome too. And then I had Addison. She came blasting into our lives with all of the explosion one might expect of a first child with an expected diagnosis.

She changed our lives.

She's taught us to find deep joy in unexpected places. To observe exquisite beauty in places I never before thought to look. She showed us some scary, complicated medical moments...and gave us a front row seat to the goodness of God holding us up even as the world flooded around us. (Thanks, Ann Voscamp.)

God perfectly created Addison with an extra chromosome. His creation is good. And beautiful. Even in hard moments, there is strength and courage and patience that I needed to learn in order to be a better mom, a better teacher, a better person. She has been a more effective teacher than all my years of formal education combined.

I've gone from ignorant and sad about Down syndrome to thankful for this journey with such a fierceness that words can't properly express the outpouring of emotion as I type those words.

And this outpouring of emotional love toward Addison and Down syndrome translates into anger as I hear about this "cure". As I hear about a scientist somewhere looking at God's creation and deciding that "it's not good enough".

Stop. Stop it right now.

Stop treating Down syndrome like a disease. Stop wasting valuable resources when there are so many life-threatening diseases that still DO need a cure.

Just. Stop.

The only thing here that needs a cure here is prejudice.

So to sum up:
(look at me working on not being wordy! Growth!)

1. I am angry
2. Down syndrome is good
3. Stop with the cure nonsense

Maybe instead...go smile at someone today who isn't exactly like you. Ask how they are doing. Open your mind to diversity. See the beauty that comes with it. Observe the unique world around you and realize how much Down syndrome adds to that.

Because to my point of view? Down syndrome is the white, beautiful blanket of snow and twinkling lights of Christmas covering the ugly brown world of winter "normal". So stop. Stop trying to Grinch up my life.



Friday, December 1, 2017

The 6 Best Fiction Books I Read This Year

I've said it before, but I love to read. I love to read pretty much everything and nothing (wink wink). BUT my favorite is without a doubt, fiction. I wanted to share with you guys 6 fiction books that I read this year that I could NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT long after I finished squeezing the words off the last page.

Yes, I have read a lot of good books this year. A LOT. But when you finish a book and immediately scramble to tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW about it...you know it might be something special. I'm a little bit picky about what I read, mostly because I read with the goal of becoming a better writer myself, so when a book impresses me...I get pretty verbal about shouting it from the rooftops.

For me, it was these 6 books this year. I could share more because there really were so many excellent ones, but maybe a second post later?

I figured this might  make a good mini-gift guide for the fiction lovers in your life. Or-- if you are a "read one book a year" type of person, here are some hand-picked ideas!

(Also, if you are wondering why I've started sharing more links and mixing up my content, the honest truth is that we are making some changes around here to badly update the blog. If you make a purchase through one of my links, it helps support that. Blog growth has been crazy good, which I'm super thankful for, but it also means I need to update my web platform. This is a work in progress. I am hoping in the process to also provide a better value to YOU as I widen the view of this blog and let more ideas flow through. Anyway, thanks for understanding my need to switch up the content a bit. I am loving sharing things big and small that influence my days. Today, it is my fav...fiction books!)

So without further ado...

1. The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin


(this is an extremely clean read)

This was my #1 of the year (I'm still thinking about this book and I finished it a month ago). Honestly, I don't even know how to describe the awesomeness of this book. For starters, it is about a mountain rescue and I hate books about mountain rescue and yet I COULDN'T STOP READING IT. In addition, the love story woven between the mountain rescue lines was just exquisite. When it got to the end I bawled like a baby. Seriously. I just didn't see it coming. The whole story was so brilliantly crafted that I could not stop thinking about this book for weeks. I wanted to dive back in and spend more time in the moments created by this unique storyline.

2. A Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander


(this one is Christian fiction)

I don't know if this is just because I'm a music nerd, but the descriptions and overall storyline on this one really won me over. This talks about how in the post-civil war era, it was considered immoral and scandalous if a woman performed a musical instrument in public. And so professional orchestras were male only. I had never considered this before, so I found this concept quite intriguing. Her musical descriptions were so on point that several times I had to stop reading to get out my violin and go practice. (-; The love story was sweet, and the overall Christian theme was much appreciated. I haven't read both the other books in the series (this is #3), but I didn't need to to understand the entire book just fine.


(this is not Christian fiction, but it is a clean read with only a few questionable behavior elements)

Okay wow. This book. Let's start with the fact that it is 500 something pages, and I read it in 24 hours. The way she shapes her words is nothing short of masterful. I felt like I was in England soaking in the beauty of the landscape and feeling each weather shift. I fell so deeply, became so entangled in the storyline, that when the ending twisted things around just so...I physically felt the blow. I thought I had the answer figured out about eight times, and each time after I said, "Okay I KNOW who did it!" the story twisted again. I love a good story twist!!! After I finished reading this, not only did I go and read and read every single other book by this author (this one was still my favorite), I also texted every single person I know who likes to read and said, "You MUST  READ THIS NOW."  (Trigger warning: this book deals with infant loss)

4. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris


(this is NOT Christian fiction, but a clean...albeit disturbing read)

I have to start by saying that this book is extremely dark. EXTREMELY. On the very disturbing side of dark. This book deals with an abusive marriage, heinous abuse that only happens behind doors. On the outside they are perfection. At home? She is literally locked in her room 24 hours a day. The reason I couldn't stop thinking about this story is because the adult sister with Down syndrome ends up being the hero of this book. I pushed through the dark to get to that happy ending, and I was not disappointed. It was refreshing to see Down syndrome portrayed in fiction. At first I felt like it was going to a bad place, but the author turned it around. If you've read this one, I'd be curious to know your take on this. I could do an entire post about the use of Down syndrome in this very dark storyline.

5. The Handmaiden's Tale by Margaret Atwood



(this is not a Christian fiction but reads in an older, literary style)

The storyline on this one is also on the scary/bizarre side. But fascinating. Disturbing in a different way. (Sometimes I like to read disturbing books just to remind myself that my mundane problems are not really problems at all).  The reason I'm including this one in my list is because of the literary, gorgeous way in which it was written. I felt like each word was chiseled down to just the right size before carefully being set into place. I was wowed by the artistry in the writer's style. I know that this is also a series on Hulu, which is equally as disturbing but fascinating. Ha!  Has anyone watched the series but not read the book? The storyline is the same, although I'm curious where they will take season 2 as the book ends at the end of season 1?

6. Confessions of A Domestic Failure


(this is not a Christian fiction, nor is it 100% a clean read)

Compared to the last two, this is a very light read. It was comforting to read of someone even worse at housekeeping than I am (I had previously thought this was impossible), and it has a feel good wrap up at the end. This book nails the tension of being a stay at home mom in 2017. (Some slight language warning) in addition to having a fun story line. This book stuck in my memory because she is a blogger that I love to follow (The Honest Toddler), and I LOVED seeing a blogger find success in the fiction world. This is not an easy bridge to jump, and so I was just so proud of her! And so proud of this book. The way she phrases things should be in a hall of fame somewhere. Seriously.

So those the 6 books that I read this year that I couldn't stop thinking about long after they were done.

Which books would be on your list? I need ideas of where to go next!