Monday, October 29, 2012

What Lies Beneath

On the surface, my life might seem perfect. People have even told me so. I am incredibly blessed with a loving husband who works hard to provide for us to allow me to stay at home, a precious daughter, parents who are still married (to each other), a home with room to grow. I thank God often for pouring out His blessings on me when I do not deserve them. But, despite what things look like on the surface, there are not-so-perfect things lurking deeper inside.

I hate that I struggle with having compassion, gossiping, judging, negativity, generosity. I wish I would keep my mouth shut when I hear the Holy Spirit prompt me to remain silent.

It's so easy for me to jump to conclusions about someone else's life and be critical of them, even though I know that I will be judged with the same measure that I judge them (Matthew 7:2: "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."). This is an area that I really want to work on. I have no idea what other people are going though, what their motives and intentions are. They are accountable to God for their own lives and I'm accountable for mine.

Take motherhood for example. Before Natalie was born, I would observe other mothers' interactions with their children and think about how I would follow their lead or act differently than them when I had my own children. I had so many ideas about how I would raise Natalie. I was going to be consistent, she was going to be well-behaved, I was never going to let her have sugar, she would be on a schedule, she would never watch tv. Once she was born, I quickly realized that motherhood was very different and much harder than I expected. At 10 months old, she is stubborn and sometimes needs to be corrected numerous times before finally being obedient (I'm sure this is very normal since she was not born knowing right from wrong, but silly me expected to have given birth to a perfect child who obeyed the first time. You are so naive, Amanda! I give you full permission to laugh at me!). She has never stuck to a schedule, nor do I know how to get her on one, but we have survived thus far. We have given her tastes of cake and ice cream, pie, brownies, and other sweets on many occasions. We do occasionally turn on Sesame Street when she is having trouble winding down for a nap or bedtime, but we do not use the tv as a babysitter. Despite re-evaluating my expectations, I don't feel like a failure as a mother (although I have my moments), but how foolish and wrong I was to ever judge other mothers for the decisions that they made! Sometimes it's simply a difference in personality that causes us to interact with our children the way we do. It's not that one way is right and one is wrong. One approach is not "good" or "bad". We each must do what we feel is best for our children, for our families, for our own sanity! More importantly, we must do what God has called us to do. My calling is not the same as the mom sitting next to me in the church nursery. Hers is not the same as the mom standing next to her in the grocery store. But each is as important in the eyes of God as the other.

The bottom line is, when I look at someone and jump to conclusions about what their life must be like based on their outward appearance, I need to stop and remind myself that they are a work in progress just like me, and that I don't know the first thing about what is going on in their life or in their heart. Maybe instead of judging them, God wants me to bless them. How can I be a blessing, if my heart wants to criticize them? Take a look in the mirror, woman! You don't have it all together either! Thank you, God, for not giving up on me! "For He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion..." Phillipians 1:6

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Curb Appeal - The Seemingly Never-Ending Home Improvement Project!

We live in a subdivision that was developed during the 1980s. There are lots of mature trees, manicured lawns, and several houses with curb appeal to spare. Then there's our house. Mature trees? Check. Manicured lawn? Um...well, the weeds get mowed on a weekly basis. Curb appeal? Severely lacking!!! Until recently...

We bought our house from my parents three and a half years ago. They made a few minor improvements to the 20+ year old shrubs, but it seems like as soon as we moved in, the weeds took over. A year or two ago, Alex cut down 3 pine trees that were growing right up next to the house and were starting to block the gutters. Then the stumps just sat there. So ugly. This past Spring, he cut down 4 bushes in the same area and planned on removing lava rock, all the old stumps, and putting down new mulch. Then the mild Spring weather suddenly turned very hot and humid and the whole project was put on hold. I was certain we had the ugliest landscaping in the neighborhood. Weeds grew several feet tall and literally covered the entire area along our sidewalk leading up to our front door. It was embarrassing.

Alex took a week of vacation in September and spent 3 days digging up lava rock, pulling out old stumps and planting new bushes. We went to a local nursery and bought Green Velvet Boxwoods, Nandinas (which turn dark red during the Fall and Winter), and some monkey grass. We dragged the pack-n-play out onto our porch and Natalie hung out with us for a few hours while we laid down new weed barrier (fingers crossed that it actually works!), spread new cypress mulch and planted all the plants. Here's the final result! We are so excited to no longer be the "ugliest house in the neighborhood"!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Perfect 10! Natalie at 10 Months

Two of my first-time-mom friends' babies turned a year old this month and it has made me a little sad that Natalie's first year of life is quickly drawing to a close as well. Their babies are now weaned from bottle and breast and seem a little less baby-like and more toddler-like now. As difficult as nursing was for the first 11 weeks, and as much as I'm looking forward to a break from its demands, I also don't want to give it up because its a stage of my baby's life that we can never go back to once its over.

On a less-sappy note, Natalie has become soooo much fun! I've thought that a lot over the past 6 months as she has started doing more and her personality comes out, but this month she started dancing all.the.time. She stands up and wiggles her cloth-diapered bottom back and forth and waves her arms and even keeps the rhythm of the music sometimes! She'll start movin' and groovin' if a toy plays music or if we start singing a song or if we turn up something on Pandora. I swear it's the cutest thing ever! I took some video of her yesterday, but I don't know how or if I can upload it to much to learn...oy vey!

I didn't keep up with all the new foods that she has tried this month, but off the top of my head she tried chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice soup, chicken pot pie (yeah, we eat a lot of chicken...), beef stew, applesauce, whole wheat Ritz crackers, and a french fry (just one! Don't want them to become a favorite, or familiar, "vegetable" - and I use that term very loosely). Since I started making more baby food, I gave up her dinnertime nursing (around 4 or 5 pm) and feed her solids then. She gets oatmeal before bed every night, and we mix applesauce in with it for some flavor since we ran out of pumped milk and are now mixing it with water. If I had to pick a favorite food, I'd say it's bananas. She can eat a whole one in one sitting if we let her! Where she puts it, I don't know... She just loves sweet things in general, just like her mama. She also drinks several ounces of water a day from a sippy cup. This kid still loves to eat, although when I fed her soup, sweet potatoes and green beans yesterday, she cried every time she saw green beans on the spoon. Thankfully, she never spit them out, but she made it clear that she preferred the soup!

I am so thankful that Natalie has been healthy! Other than a runny nose and a cough twice, she hasn't had any health problems. We keep thinking that she's going to cut a tooth, but none have made an appearance yet. I love her gummy smile, though, and am going to enjoy it while it lasts! She's still growing like a weed, and has started wearing size 4 shoes.

Sleeping is still very sporadic. Natalie made progress this month by starting to sleep from 8:30 or 9 (bedtime has been too late, too often!) until 6:15 am, nursing, and then going back to sleep until around 8 am. Then she started waking up around 4 am and refusing to go back to sleep unless she was being held, so I brought her in our bed, where she fell back to sleep, kicked me until morning, but also slept until 7 and 8 am without nursing. It has become very obvious to me that she has been using me as a pacifier. We just have to figure out how to get her to sleep 11 or 12 hours in HER OWN BED without waking up for that 6 am feeding! I'm done with letting her cry. We've done that on quite a few occasions to get her to sleep until 5 or 6 am, and it's emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting for all of us.

Natalie is very serious around non-family members and takes a long time to warm up sometimes. A friend who is starting her own photography business asked to take pictures of Natalie for her portfolio, so we took pictures for over 3 hours last week. Out of 667 pictures, I swear, Natalie smiled in maybe 20 of them. 20! She was content and such a trooper, but just so serious! That, and she tried to put every single prop in her mouth. We joked that we're going to make a collage of pictures from that shoot and put the caption "Will work for food" at the top :)

It is such a joy and a privilege to be Natalie's mama. My heart is so full. Everywhere we go, people comment about how cute she is and I can't help but be proud of her. Alex and I ask ourselves how we ended up with such a beautiful little girl. God has blessed us indeed! She has such a sweet, cheerful, energetic disposition that we can't get enough of. She freely gives lots of hugs and kisses now, and it just melts my heart every time, even if she does pull my hair when she wraps her little arms around my neck. I can't imagine life without her.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chicken, Rice & Veggie Soup Recipe

In my continued efforts to overcome my dinner-cooking rut, I created a new soup recipe that was inspired by a recipe I saw on The Cottage Home blog. Alex seemed to enjoy it and Natalie chowed down on some after I put it in the food processor. Actually, it looked like her bib ate more than she did, but that's what happens when Daddy tries to feed her. Hehehe!

Chicken, Rice and Veggie Soup

Whole fryer (or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
6 carrots
1 med onion
4 stalks of celery
2 cups long-grain brown rice
6 chicken bouillon cubes
salt & pepper to taste

Boil whole fryer for 2 hours. Let cool and remove meat from the bone. You could save time and cook chicken breasts in a pan and then cube or shred it if you preferred. Saute carrots, onion and celery in a pan with olive oil until carrots are soft. While vegetables are cooking, cook rice according to package directions (mine took about an hour to cook). I strained the chicken broth and then used it as a base to my soup, but you could use a few boxes of broth from the store. I added bouillon, salt and pepper for flavor. Once rice and veggies are cooked, throw them and the chicken into the broth and heat to a simmer. I pureed several cups of soup to freeze for Natalie, Alex and I each ate a bowl and there were 4 quarts of soup left over.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pinterest Recipe Success

Like millions of other people around the world, I caught the Pinterest bug and can all too easily spend way too much time pinning diy project ideas and recipes and such that catch my eye. Unfortunately, I've had little success cooking most of said recipes - especially dinners. We just end up not liking the things that every other pinner supposedly declares to be "the best meal you've ever eaten!" Desserts have turned out great, thankfully! On top of that, I've been in this recipe funk for a while and just can't come up with meal ideas that a)sound appetizing and b)are quick and easy. So, as many a housewife have started to do, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I made chicken that claimed to be coated in the exact KFC original recipe spices and was baked instead of fried. It was good, Alex claimed that he liked it better than the chicken fingers that I spend way too much on at the grocery store, but I wouldn't agree with the recipe creator who claimed to have figured out KFC's secret formula. I made a TON, so I froze the leftovers for a night when I just don't feel like cooking. All in all, I'd probably make the dish again, but because of the mess, it won't become part of a regular rotation. If you'd like to try it, here's the link to the recipe.

I also tried out these baked meatballs to accompany some homemade spaghetti sauce. Alex has been asking for homemade meatballs since forever, and I just hadn't gotten around it making some. These were ok, but my dad's are better. Maybe I'm biased, but I plan on asking for his recipe next time. (And, I know I should have just asked for his recipe in the first place, but I kept forgetting!) I also made a ton of these (like 50 or 60!) and froze the extras.

Earlier this week, I tried out these cheesy chicken, bacon, ranch foil meals. Now THIS is a recipe that I will make again and again (as long as my dearest husband doesn't change his mind as he is apt to do and decide that he's not crazy about this dish!). It was fast and easy and only dirtied 2 dishes (the cookie sheet that I baked the bacon on and a mixing bowl). My only "complaint" is that it turned out a little too salty, but I had improvised when making my ranch dressing, so I think it would have been less salty if I had had all the ingredients on hand to make it like usual.

So, that's it! Have you tried any recipes that you've found on Pinterest that were worth putting into your regular dinner rotation? If so, I'd love to try them, too!